Tuesday March 26th, 2019 4:29AM

Tighter-than-tight PA congressional race too close to call

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

MT. LEBANON, Pa. (AP) — A razor's edge separated Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone Tuesday night in their closely watched special election in Pennsylvania, where a surprisingly strong bid by first-time candidate Lamb was testing Donald Trump's sway in a GOP stronghold.

The contest in the Pittsburgh-area district has drawn national attention as a bellwether for the midterm elections in November, when the Republican Party's House and Senate majorities are at risk. Regardless of the outcome in western Pennsylvania, Lamb's showing in a district Trump won by 20 points in the presidential race is sure to stoke anxiety among Republicans nationwide and renewed enthusiasm among Democrats.

At midnight with all precincts reporting, unofficial results had Lamb leading Saccone by fewer than 600 votes. Several thousand absentee ballots were still being counted as the effort carried into Wednesday, and the final result could well be decided by a recount.

The stakes in the high-profile special election were more political than practical.

The ultimate winner will face re-election in just eight months, and the congressional district as currently shaped will likely vanish next year. Yet President Trump and his chief allies invested tremendous time and resources in keeping the seat in Republican hands.

The White House had scrambled to rally voters behind Saccone, who cast himself as the president's "wingman," but he struggled at times to connect with the blue-collar coalition that fueled Trump's victory little more than a year ago.

Saccone was upbeat as he addressed supporters near midnight. "It's not over yet, we're going to fight all the way, all the way to the end, we'll never give up," he told a cheering crowd in a hall near his home 15 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

In a race this close, either candidate's supporters can ask for a recount. However there are stiff requirements, including requiring three voters in the same precinct who can attest that error or fraud was committed.

Lamb, a 33-year old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, downplayed his opposition to the Republican president on Tuesday and insisted instead that the race hinged on local issues.

"This didn't have much to do with President Trump," Lamb said after casting his vote in suburban Pittsburgh.

Because of a state court decision redrawing Pennsylvania's congressional boundaries, the winner will have to start campaigning for re-election almost immediately in a different district. Still, the election has far greater political consequences as each party prepares for the November midterm elections.

For the White House and its Republican allies, a Tuesday loss would represent both a profound embarrassment and major cause for concern in the broader push to defend majorities in the U.S. House and Senate.

The president has campaigned in the district twice and sent several tweets on Saccone's behalf. Other recent visitors include the vice president, the president's eldest son, the president's daughter and the president's chief counselor. Outside groups aligned with Republicans have also poured millions of dollars into the contest.

For Democrats, a win would reverberate nationwide, while even a narrow loss would be viewed as a sign of increased Democratic enthusiasm just as the midterm season begins.

Lamb was watching election returns privately, but hundreds of his family, friends and supporters were enjoying a buffet and drinks at a Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, hotel.

The excited supporters included Lamb's middle school football and basketball coach, Joe DelSardo, who recalled Lamb as "a leader from the beginning."

The former coach described the district as having "a lot of suit-and-tie people and people who dig in the dirt." Lamb, he said, "can talk to all of them, and that's why he can win."

Registered Republican Brett Gelb said he voted for Saccone, largely because the Republican candidate promised to support the president.

"Saccone backs a lot of President Trump's plans for the country," said Gelb, a 48-year-old fire technician who lives in Mt. Lebanon. He added, "I do think Trump is doing a good job. I think he needs backup."

Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats this fall to seize control of the House, and months ago few had counted on this Pittsburgh-area district to be in play. The seat has been in Republican hands for the past 15 years.

It was open now only because longtime Republican congressman Tim Murphy, who espoused strong anti-abortion views, resigned last fall amid revelations of an extramarital affair in which he urged his mistress to get an abortion.

After voting Tuesday in Allegheny County, Republican Saccone downplayed the significance of the unusually close race.

"The Democrats ... they're throwing everything they can at this race," he said. "There hasn't been an open seat for a long time."

Besides bruising the president, a Lamb defeat also could shake Republican self-assurance that their new tax law can shield them from other political woes.

With polls showing a tight race for months, Saccone tried to persuade the GOP-leaning electorate that their choice was about "making America great again," as the president repeatedly says.

Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran turned state lawmaker and college instructor, enjoyed enthusiastic backing from the social conservatives who've anchored his state career. He's been perhaps at his most animated when emphasizing his opposition to abortion rights.

Yet Saccone struggled to raise money and stir the same passions that helped Trump on his way to the White House. The consistent fundraising deficit left him with limited resources to air the message he delivered one-on-one: His four decades of experience in the private sector, international business and now the Legislature should make voters' choice a no-brainer.

Lamb, meanwhile, excited core Democrats and aimed for independents and moderate Republicans.

"We worked really hard for it," Lamb said after voting.

He did it though national Republican groups filled airwaves and social media with depictions of the first-time candidate as little more than a lemming for Nancy Pelosi — the California Democrat, House minority leader.

Lamb answered the criticism by saying he wouldn't support Pelosi as floor leader, much less as speaker if the Democrats should retake control of the House. He also said he opposes major new gun restrictions — though he backs expanded background checks — and declared himself personally opposed to abortion, despite his support for its legality.

Lamb largely avoided mentioning Trump, who remains generally popular in the district even if slightly diminished from his 2016 dominance.

Lamb embraced Democratic orthodoxy on the new GOP tax law, hammering it as a giveaway to corporations at the future expense of Social Security, Medicare and the nation's fiscal security. And he embraces unions, highlighting Saccone's anti-labor record at the statehouse, which was a notable deviation from the retiring Murphy's status as a union-friendly Republican.

The AFL-CIO counts 87,000 voters from union households — around a fifth of the electorate.

In a final-hours message on Fox Business Network, Saccone said that he was ready and willing to help Trump.

"He's getting beat up in Washington as you see, from the media, from the bureaucracy and from Hollywood," Saccone said. "He needs a good wingman."


Peoples reported from New York.


Follow Barrow and Levy on Twitter at and .

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News, AP Elections, General Presidential Election News, General House Election News
© Copyright 2019
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Tighter-than-tight PA congressional race too close to call
Western PA special election: A Trump embarrassment or just a close call?
11:29PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Disney World trip ends in horrific crash for Texas students
A much-anticipated trip to Disney World ends in disaster for a Texas high school band
11:19PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Federal trial begins for widow of Orlando nightclub shooter
The widow of the man who shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, will go on trial in federal court
11:11PM ( 32 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Amtrak to restore most service Wednesday
Amtrak says it will restore most service between Boston and New York City on Wednesday as the Northeast digs out from the third powerful nor'easter in two weeks
9:44PM ( 2 hours ago )
3 rural Illinois men charged with Minnesota mosque bombing
Three rural central Illinois men charged with the bombing of a Minnesota mosque last year; federal authorities say one of the men told an investigator the goal of the attack was to 'scare' Muslims out of the United States
9:44PM ( 2 hours ago )
Feds probing helicopter crash examine passenger restraints
Investigators have recovered a flight data recorder and a GoPro camera from a helicopter that crashed into New York City's East River as officials try to piece together why it went down
9:14PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
Families of 2 victims of Austin package bombs knew one other
Two of the three families targeted by package bombs left on Austin doorsteps knew each other
7:58PM ( 3 hours ago )
Trump's CIA pick is career spymaster, oversaw secret prison
President Donald Trump's pick to be the next director of the CIA is a career spymaster who oversaw torture at a secret prison during one of the darkest chapters in the agency's history
7:41PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Trump fires Secretary of State Tillerson
President Donald Trump has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson- via Twitter - and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to shift from America's spy chief to its top diplomat
7:35PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Aide to ex-Iowa Senate leader who kissed lobbyist resigns
A legislative aide to the former Republican majority leader of the Iowa Senate is leaving his job, one day after his boss resigned for kissing a Statehouse lobbyist
9:06PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Protesters gather near LA-area Trump fundraiser
Tensions are high at a Southern California park where demonstrators for and against Donald Trump gathered near a fundraiser attended by the president
9:04PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Polls close in Pennsylvania's US House election
Polls have now closed in Pennsylvania's special congressional election between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb
8:21PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
The Latest: Trump in California lauds troops for excellence
President Donald Trump is telling U.S. troops that he's overseeing a massive military buildup, praising soldiers for pushing themselves to "new heights of excellence."
5:25PM ( 6 hours ago )
The Latest: Saccone says he'd be Trump's Washington wingman
A Pennsylvania House district that President Donald Trump won handily in 2016 is now a toss-up, as Republican candidate Rick Saccone struggles to pull away from Democratic challenger Conor Lamb.
5:03PM ( 6 hours ago )
US trying to improve Syrian detention of foreign fighters
The top U.S. commander in the Middle East says there are ongoing U.S. efforts to improve Syrian rebels' ability to detain what has become a steadily growing number of foreign fighters in Syria.
5:03PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Egyptian authorities call on citizens to report on the media
Egyptian authorities call on citizens to report on the media in latest effort to silence criticism ahead of election
4:21PM ( 7 hours ago )
Hillary Clinton: US did not 'deserve' Trump presidency
Hillary Clinton told an audience in India that the United States did not "deserve" Donald Trump's presidency and these are "perilous times."
1:13PM ( 10 hours ago )
Voters deciding whether to keep US House seat in GOP hands
As voters head to the polls in Pennsylvania, Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb insists that the race in the GOP-heavy district isn't about the larger-than-life personality in the White House, but Donald Trump's footprints are all over the race
12:30PM ( 11 hours ago )
AP Elections
House panel's initial report says no collusion with Russia
A draft report from the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee concludes there was no collusion or coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia
6:18AM ( 17 hours ago )
Under spotlight, special Pa. House race goes to voters
Voters in western Pennsylvania are set to choose between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb in a special congressional election with implications for the November midterms
5:41AM ( 18 hours ago )
Draft GOP report: No coordination between Trump and Russia
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have completed a draft report concluding there was no collusion or coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia
11:28PM ( 1 day ago )
General Presidential Election News
Under spotlight, Pennsylvania House race goes to voters
Voters in western Pennsylvania are set to choose between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb in a special congressional election with implications for the November midterms
12:36AM ( 23 hours ago )
Pa. House election hits final day of campaign in close race
The final day of campaigning Monday before votes are cast in Pennsylvania's congressional election that will reverberate nationally drew a visit by Donald Trump Jr. and lots of door-knocking.
5:27PM ( 1 day ago )
The Latest: Trump hails GOP candidate in special PA election
President Donald Trump is highlighting a Pennsylvania newspaper's endorsement of the Republican candidate in Tuesday's special election for a U.S. House seat
11:31AM ( 1 day ago )
General House Election News
Disney World trip ends in horrific crash for Texas students
A much-anticipated trip to Disney World ends in disaster for a Texas high school band
11:19PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Federal trial begins for widow of Orlando nightclub shooter
The widow of the man who shot and killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, will go on trial in federal court
11:11PM ( 32 minutes ago )
Facing death penalty, school shooting suspect in court
Now formally facing the death penalty, the suspect in the Valentine's Day school shooting that killed 17 people in Florida is headed for a court appearance on a 34-count indictment
11:05PM ( 39 minutes ago )
Cruz sustains latest injury for banged-up Mariners
Nelson Cruz joined the Seattle Mariners' growing list of injured players when he left in the first inning because of soreness in his right quadriceps
11:02PM ( 41 minutes ago )
The Latest: Pa. House race still too close to call
Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone are locked in a tight congressional race
10:59PM ( 44 minutes ago )