The polls are closed in the race to fill the vacancy left by former Republican Congressman Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. Murphy resigned in October of 2017, after it was discovered that he allegedly tried to pressure his mistress into having an abortion. This mess was a GOP creation. Now, we’ll see who will replace Murphy in a district that will disappear by November.
PA-18 is a fight for a seat that in no way determines control of the House and will be eliminated at the end of the year... The Pittsburgh media market is making out like a bandit.— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) March 12, 2018
With the #PA18 special election tomorrow, here are a few thoughts in a short thread, starting with #PA18's demographics. This isn't a "working class" district, it's a heavily white district with above-average edu levels despite some WWC Obama-Trump areas https://t.co/6EQUQolQRu— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) March 12, 2018
A narrow Lamb or Saccone win means little for the national House environment, but Trump+20 #PA18 even being close to begin with is telling. Dems have wildly overperformed in 2017-2018 special elections, & that's historically predictive of midterm results https://t.co/CSfjB5fN32— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) March 12, 2018
While a #PA18 Lamb win may not mean much for the 2018 national environment, politicians wouldn't see it that way. A Lamb win in such a solidly GOP seat may prompt more GOP incumbents to retire & strong Dem recruits to join seemingly tough races. Just look at the #ALsen aftermath— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) March 12, 2018
Lastly, while the current #PA18 won't exist in Nov, a Lamb win still matters for Nov. Lamb's base got moved to GOP Rep. Rothfus' new #PA17, which Trump won by only 2.6%. There are already signs Lamb would run there if he wins #PA18, & he'd start with solid name rec & a donor base— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) March 12, 2018
There’s going to be a lot of commentary no matter who wins this race in PA-18, its impact on the 2018 election, and its aftershock effects. National Public Radio had a decent post about the four things to look for: is the Trump coalition transferable, is this a harbinger of things to come for 2018, can the tax bill save the GOP, and will the anti-Pelosi messaging work? It’s a district that went heavily for Trump in 2016, but polls have painted a different picture in this contest. It’s either been virtually neck-and-neck between the two candidates, Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, or with Lamb leading Saccone. President Trump held a rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend to stump for Saccone, ripping into Lamb, whom he coined “Lamb the Sham,” the Democrats, and the media. Saccone has positioned himself as a staunch supporter of Trump. In recent days, the headlines have been reading as if the GOP was deploying countermeasures, panicking over a possible Lamb win (via Politico):
Republicans mounted a last-ditch stand here to save their struggling candidate for a House seat deep in the heart of Trump country, unleashing the party's full arsenal to stave off a major embarrassment for the president and GOP heading into the midterms.
Nearly every corner of the national party was involved in the final push over the weekend — from the Republican National Committee, which deployed staffers from Washington to knock on doors; to a cash-flush GOP super PAC that orchestrated an under-the-radar effort to diminish Democratic hopeful Conor Lamb’s standing with liberal voters; to the powerful Koch political network, which is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a mail and field deployment campaign ahead of Tuesday’s closely watched special election.
The multimillion-dollar undertaking underscored the enormous stakes for the party in the southwestern Pennsylvania district, which Trump won by 20 points but where polls show Lamb and Saccone locked in a tight race. A loss here would be an ominous sign for the party in the run-up to November, starkly illustrating its softening support even in Trump strongholds.
By the end of the weekend, Republicans had dropped more than $8 million on TV ads, outspending Democrats nearly 2 to 1, according to media buying figures. In an indication of just how much capital the administration is expending on the contest, Donald Trump Jr. is slated to campaign with Saccone on Monday, two days after his father staged a rally.
Also, we’ve found out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did something of a covert operation in PA-18 as well (via McClatchy):
Publicly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did little to help Conor Lamb.
Behind the scenes was a different story.
The Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania’s special House election — whom polls suggest is poised to pull off a shock upset in Tuesday’s race over Republican Rick Saccone — benefited from a quiet but determined DCCC effort to boost his candidacy, according to local party officials and a source with knowledge of the spending strategy.
The group’s multi-pronged effort totaled more than $1 million and included significant investments in field staff, NFL-themed digital ads, and a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort to pull Lamb across the finish line. It also included a nearly $450,000 infusion into the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, money used to fund voter outreach.
The National Rifle Association also came to the aid of Saccone, though not nearly as much as the DCCC with Lamb (via ABC News):
The National Rifle Association has engaged in an under-the-radar spending campaign for Republican candidate Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania’s Tuesday special election.
It is the only federal political spending the pro-gun group has reported since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., according to FEC reports.
The NRA spent $7,868 in support of Saccone but the money wasn’t seen in a high-profile venture like TV ads or get-out-the-vote efforts. Most of it - $7,532 - was spent on mailings scheduled to be distributed in the district on Monday. The remaining $336 was spent on phone banking earlier this month, according to campaign finance filings.
Lamb also seems to have learned from Jon Ossoff's failure in GA-06:
"He intentionally didn’t invite the kind of star power that surrounded Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee in last year’s special election in suburban Atlanta ..."— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) March 13, 2018
A really smart look at #PA18 by @allymutnick https://t.co/wtRC2NzcdI
Now, with the polls closed and ballots being counted all we can do is wait. NBC News noted that the GOP was “not feeling good” about tonight. As for the NPR question about the tax bill, well, the GOP dropped that line in their messaging in the closing hours of the election. It also doesn’t bode well that the spin for Saccone’s lackluster performance in the polls is that this is a Democratic district.
Here’s what NBC News had on the fallout from this race:
First, the race's outcome will have big local repercussions. If Lamb wins tonight, he would likely run for re-election in the new 17th District, a seat that takes in much more of his suburban Allegheny County base than the current 18th District and is much more favorable to Democrats. He might even be the favorite there against GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus in the fall, assuming both Lamb and Rothfus choose to run in the district where they live. If Saccone wins, he would have the inside track to win reelection in the new 14th District, which takes in much of the current 18th District but is roughly three points more Republican. Regardless of who wins, both Lamb and Saccone will only have a week to plot their next moves: Pennsylvania's filing deadline for the November elections is March 20.
Second, tonight's outcome will reverberate nationally. If Lamb wins, the election would tell Republicans that even districts that voted for President Trump by 20 points may not be safe this fall. It could also indicate that the tax cut bill - a key element of GOP groups' messaging throughout February on the Pittsburgh airwaves - failed to motivate Trump supporters to get behind Saccone sufficiently, a development that could cause several more incumbent Republicans to contemplate retirement. Even if Saccone wins, he's unlikely to do so by nearly the same margin as Trump did in the district. And that would signal it's become possible for Democrats to make inroads in GOP districts by running to their party's right on issues like guns, trade and energy - just like Lamb did.
For now, it looks like this race is going to be very close. Around 60 percent of the precincts are in, with Lamb leading 52/47 over Saccone. We still don’t know Westmoreland County and other rural regions of the district, which is where Saccone needs to do well in order to make up ground. The problem is we’ll probably find out the results of that county in one huge data dump because they’re not going to report by precinct:
ICYMI: Here's what I'd estimate Conor Lamb (D) needs in each #PA18 county to win tonight:— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
I'd still maybe rather be Lamb (D) but this is a *very* close special. #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Lamb (D) doing maybe a hair better than he needs to do in Allegheny precincts & turnout pretty robust there. Saccone (R) doing hair better elsewhere, question is what's Westmoreland/rural turnout like? #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
A lot of what we're seeing in Allegheny right now are Lamb's best precincts. Looking really close & we won't have a better idea until we see some Westmoreland. #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Still quite early, but you can see the pattern on the bottom end of the chart. That shows that, in GOP areas, Saccone doing a bit better than we thought he would. But we don't have many GOP areas in so far. I'm a little concerned the needle is overreacting here, but we'll see pic.twitter.com/f4VMUQsKvs— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) March 14, 2018
Overall, things are looking a lot like we thought a tied race would look, if a hair better for Lamb. It's going to be a while. pic.twitter.com/Bspgue32GU— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) March 14, 2018
Well folks, we have some bad news. Westmoreland County has told us that they aren't going to report results by precinct tonight (though they had previously told us they would). The model runs on precinct results so, this is a problem.— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) March 14, 2018
UPDATE: Race still considered very close, but Lamb is doing well enough in Westmoreland to win from the numbers we have thus far.
Right now, all the counties are breaking as they would in a tied #PA18 outcome. The reason I might but a thumb on the scale for Lamb (D) is higher intensity/turnout in Dem-heavy precincts vs. GOP-heavy ones. But it's super-close.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Rick Saccone (R) better hope that he beats expectations in Westmoreland, otherwise tough to see a route for him to win #PA18. Still nothing there.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
What Saccone (R) really needs is a big boost from the remaining Washington Co. precincts. His % should improve there as more report. #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
So far, Lamb (D) is doing well enough in Westmoreland to pull this out: he's above 43% w/ 53% of precincts reporting there. BUT, unclear what precincts are left there. #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
UPDATE (9:48): Lamb leads Saccone by a little over 2,400 votes, and the NYT election needle is offline for now:
Precinct results are not currently available in Westmoreland County, a heavily Republican part of the district. We’re monitoring the county-level results closely, but for now we can’t responsibly make a forecast without more detailed information about where in Westmoreland County the votes are coming from.
UPDATE III (9:56): Lamb now leads by a little over 1,100 votes, but David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes that such a close race in a GOP district doesn’t bode well for Republicans. Lamb leads Saccone 50/49.4. Reminaing Allegheny and Washington precincts lean Lamb and Saccone respectively:
Lamb (D) lead falls to 1,976 w/ 91% reporting. Remaining precincts still *slightly* favorable to Saccone (R). #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Needless to say, the fact #PA18 is headed for a photo finish is pretty bad news for Republicans nationally.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
UPDATE: Lamb (D) lead falls to 928 votes (0.4%) w/ 95% of precincts reporting. Nearly all Westmoreland in. The remaining Allegheny precincts lean Lamb, remaining Washington precincts lean Saccone. #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
UPDATE (11:03): Allegheny County’s absentee ballots have been counted. Lamb increased lead, but only by 847 votes. Saccone is still in the hunt. Lamb was down by just 95 votes prior to absentee count. Greene County said they will not count their absentee ballots until tomorrow. GOP sources telling Politico the Saccone did better than what was projected, but this race isn't over.
BREAKING: Allegheny Co. absentees break 1,930 to 1,178 for Lamb (D). Lamb now up 847 votes (0.4%) w/ 2 precincts left. Barring a tabulation error somewhere, that should be enough for him to prevail.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
UPDATE: Lamb (D) lead down to 95 votes (0.04%), with two Westmoreland Co. precincts outstanding. Still, assuming no tabulation errors, absentees should be enough to keep Lamb ahead by at least a few hundred. #PA18— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Lamb (D) should expect a pretty healthy boost from uncounted absentees. Why? 1) They've historically skewed Dem 2) More than half of them are from Allegheny Co. (despite Allegheny only being ~43% of #PA18). pic.twitter.com/SAth8WtnY0— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
People getting riled up about whether Lamb wins or loses are missing the point(s). This district is history, and Saccone winning by two or losing by two are roughly equal in terms of bad news for the GOP in November.— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) March 14, 2018
On PA SPECIAL, top House GOP source tells me that "we were predicted to lose by 4-6 points as of this a.m. So while this definitely isn't ideal, tonight has already exceeded expectation with this candidate."— Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) March 14, 2018
This #PA18 situation is crazy: not only is a recount possible, but Lamb (D) & Saccone (R) must decide which district(s) to run for in the fall & collect 1,000 valid signatures before the filing deadline (3/20) in just ONE WEEK.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
UPDATE (11:18): Washington County announced that are going to count all of its 1,195 absentee ballots. They have to remove the ballots, scan the bar code on the ballots, and there will be a hand count. It’ll take several hours. Associated Press announces that they will not call the election tonight.
WASHINGTON COUNTY CHANGES ITS MIND. COUNTING TONIGHT. #PA18— Elena Schneider (@ec_schneider) March 14, 2018
BREAKING: AP is not declaring a winner in Tuesday's special election for Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district because the race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone is too close to call.— The Associated Press (@AP) March 14, 2018
UPDATE (11:42): No one has called the race, but the DCCC is declaring victory. Republican Rick Saccone has addressed supporters, vows to fight on because “it’s not over yet.”
GOPer Saccone says he will not give up and continue to fight to win the special election in PA18— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) March 14, 2018
.@DCCC is claiming victory for Lamb: “I want to congratulate Conor Lamb and his team of grassroots supporters on an incredible victory... These results should terrify Republicans."— Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) March 14, 2018
GOP Pennsylvania congressional candidate Rick Saccone: “We are still fighting the fight. It’s not over yet … we’re not giving up” https://t.co/cdPelXtCK2— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 14, 2018