PA-18 is the GOP’s to Lose – and They Just Might Do It

Rick Saccone greets volunteers on Pennsylvania congressional campaign trail

Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, described congressional candidate Conor Lamb as a “God-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending Democrat” on Sunday.

How’s a Republican going to top that?

Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine Corps captain and a former federal prosecutor, is running against state representative Rick Saccone, 60, to fill Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, which was vacated when, as PJM reported, former Rep. Tim Murphy (R) allegedly asked his mistress to get an abortion.

Is the GOP nervous? Democrats have knocked GOP lawmakers out of a dozen Republican-held state legislative and congressional seats since October.

But PA-18 should be rock-solid Republican territory. President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the district by 20 percent, and Saccone said he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

“I ran on that agenda in 2010. It’s the same agenda – it’s the people’s agenda. The president just nationalized it,” Saccone said when he won the GOP’s nomination to run for the 18th congressional district seat.

The Economist reported the National Republican Campaign Committee spent more than $3.5 million on ads supporting Saccone, which was more than what the NRCC paid for marketing in 70 percent of the congressional districts the group hit hardest in 2016.

By contrast, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee only spent $312,500 to back Lamb.

Still, with Tuesday’s special election only hours away, Real Clear Politics called the race a “toss-up.”

Politico reported the GOP’s problem is the GOP’s candidate. Rick Saccone is described by close to two dozen Trump administration officials, senior House Republicans and campaign strategists as “deeply underwhelming.”

Those interviewed by Politico said Saccone just wasn’t pulling his weight and was depending far too much on national GOP officials for fundraising and organization.

Even Trump was said to be less than enthused with Saccone after appearing with the candidate at a January fundraiser.

Ivanka Trump met Saccone in February at a small-business roundtable in Pittsburgh, and while the first daughter liked him she said Saccone lacked the charisma needed by a political candidate.

And a Republican National Committee survey showed only 47 percent of PA-18 voters saw Saccone favorably — three points below Trump’s rating in the district.

“In a tough political environment, candidate quality matters more than ever. In an anti-GOP year — which this is shaping up to be — the Republican candidates will need to run much stronger campaigns or be prepared for the national party to cut them loose,” Ken Spain, who served as a senior aide at the NRCC during the GOP’s 2010 House takeover, told Politico.

Saccone railed against reports that he was an inadequate candidate, blaming the media for flattering Lamb while ignoring his accomplishments.

“The media fawns over my opponent, trying to stretch his little thin resume and trying to make it sound like it’s something big, when I have a big resume that they to try and scrunch down and don’t say anything about,” Saccone said.

Trump was on the PA-18 campaign tail rallying Republican voters Saturday night.

During an hour-long speech, Trump mentioned Saccone at least six times and told his audience that the White House needed to hold on to the seat vacated by Murphy.

“His opponent is not voting for us,” Trump said, referring to Conor Lamb. “He can say all he wants, there’s no way he’s voting for us ever, ever. … Rick is going to vote for us all the time, all the time.”

“We need Republicans, we need their votes. Otherwise, they’re going to take away your taxes, your tax cuts. They’re going to take away your Second Amendment rights,” Trump added.

Donald Trump Jr. was scheduled to campaign for Saccone today.

“The president comes in for his second visit, the vice president has been here, Ivanka’s been here, cabinet secretaries have been here, 10 kitchen sinks has been thrown here, $15 million has been spent here, and that Marine is still standing,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D) told Politico over the weekend.

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Lamb on March 6 and told voters essentially the same thing, but from the Democrats’ perspective.

“Go out and make sure he (Lamb) wins. It will set a trend in the nation. It will change things,” Biden said during a rally in Pittsburgh.

Ironically, FiveThirtyEight reported, not only would a Lamb victory Tuesday be excruciatingly lousy news for the GOP, it could drastically “change things,” as Biden put it, for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Lamb said he would not vote for her to remain the House minority leader if he’s elected.

“I think it’s clear that this Congress is not working for people,” Lamb told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think we need new leadership on both sides.”