The GOP is in full meltdown mode over the Pennsylvania special election

The race is too close for comfort for the GOP

Tuesday’s special election in a traditionally conservative congressional district of Pennsylvania is surprisingly close — too close for comfort for Republicans, and just close enough for a possible upset for Democrats.

On Tuesday, voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district will choose between former prosecutor Democrat Conor Lamb and state legislator Republican Rick Saccone. Both sides have a lot invested in the race; Lamb has raised more than four times as much money as Saccone, but outside Republican groups have spent more than twice as much on the race in an effort to keep the district from turning blue.

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The seat became vacant when Rep. Tim Murphy resigned last October after reports of an affair surfaced. Murphy, who is outspokenly anti-abortion, allegedly asked the woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion. Although he initially said he would stay in his seat until after the election, he announced several days later he would serve his full term. Tuesday’s election will fill his seat, which he had held since 2003.

President Trump won the district by 19 points in the 2016 election, but recent polls project a much smaller margin for Saccone, suggesting the Trump movement has lost some momentum since 2016. Despite the polls, Saccone is running on the Trump platform, championing the president’s tax cuts, pledging his loyalty to the coal mining industry and staying unwaveringly pro-life.

“I was Trump before Trump was Trump,” Saccone told Pittsburgh’s NPR station last November. “I ran on that agenda in 2010. It’s the same agenda – it’s the people’s agenda. The president just nationalized it.”

But Saccone’s fundraising has come in far short of Lamb’s, around $900,000 to Lamb's $3.5 million. Party supporters have been forced to step in to fill the gap, stuffing the race with more than $10 million in outside spending . On Monday, the Republican National Committee and the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund shelled out $44,000 for last minute phone calls to voters.

Trump held a campaign rally for Saccone in Moon Township, Penn. on Saturday, but the rally focused more on his own reelection in 2020 than reasons voters should get out at vote for Saccone. Axios reports that Trump secretly thinks Saccone is a weak candidate, but the president reiterated his support for Succone in a tweet Monday morning.

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Lamb is going after the votes of Trump-voting Democrats, something Pennsylvania’s 18th district is full of. He is pro-union and against gun control, holding campaign events with coal mining and technician unions over the weekend.

If Lamb pulls through, this would be the second major special election upset for Democrats since President Trump took office after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore for a Senate seat in red Alabama last year.

Republicans are pulling out all the stops to keep that from happening. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, campaigned with Saccone in Pennsylvania Monday afternoon, and GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel reenforced the party’s support for Saccone ahead of the election Monday.

“The Democrat running like a Republican,” McDaniel said in a statement. “He’s pro-gun, he’s pro-tariff, he’s pro-Trump essentially, he’s running against—anti-Nancy Pelosi, and the Republicans running like a true Republican. He actually is a Republican and it’s going to be a tight, tight race when you have two people running basically for the same party but one is just saying that to get votes and the other is actually telling the truth and that’s Rick Saccone, who we’re hoping will come out the winner tomorrow.”

Cover image: Rick Saccone, Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, center, shake hands with an employee while touring Sarris Candies with Donald Trump Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions with the Trump Organization Inc., center left, during a campaign stop in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Monday, March 12, 2018. GOP and conservative groups aiding Republican State Representative Saccone have spent more than $10 million dollars ahead of tomorrow's election against Democrat Conor Lamb in the 18th District, a conservative bastion President Donald Trump carried by about 20 percentage points in the 2016 election. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images