Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory early Wednesday morning in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, as he clung to a razor-thin lead with one county’s absentee ballots still left to be tallied.
If Lamb’s margin holds up, it would be a humiliating defeat for Republicans in a district President Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
The race to replace disgraced outgoing GOP incumbent Tim Murphy garnered national attention when polls showed Lamb gaining on Republican Rick Saccone. Like other special elections recently, it came to be seen as a bellwether of this November’s midterms, and attracted millions of dollars in outside spending.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Lamb leads Saccone by just 641 votes. Saccone’s campaign is waiting for provisional and absentee ballots to be counted before deciding whether to concede.
“I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick, but the world is watching, because I won this district,” Trump said at a campaign rally with the Republican candidate on Saturday. Privately, the president called Saccone a “weak” candidate, White House sources told Axios.
Saccone himself tried to energize voters by identifying himself with Trump, saying the president “needs a good wingman.” But he had the misfortune of going up against an exceptionally strong Democratic candidate, Lamb, a 33-year-old former Marine and Ivy League grad.
Representative Steve Stivers, who as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee is in charge of electing Republicans to the House, warned Saccone earlier this year that his campaign was in trouble and had unacceptably weak fundraising numbers. The GOP’s investment in the race would eventually top $10 million.
If his lead stands, Lamb will finish out the rest of the year representing the 18th district. But since the state supreme court recently redrew the map of Pennsylvania’s House districts, both candidates will soon find their homes in other, separate districts, and could plunge right back into campaigns for the right to represent the state in the House for the next two years.