Pa. House Election Hits Final Day of Campaign in Close Race - NBC Chicago
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Pa. House Election Hits Final Day of Campaign in Close Race

Rick Saccone has struggled unexpectedly against Conor Lamb with an electorate that favored Trump by 20 percentage points just 16 months ago

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    The final day of campaigning Monday before votes are cast in western Pennsylvania's closely watched congressional election drew a visit by Donald Trump Jr. and lots of door-knocking all over the southwestern district where polls show a close race.

    President Donald Trump tweeted about "steel and business" in a final push to sway voters while Donald Trump Jr., visiting a candy-making business, touted Republican Rick Saccone as someone who will be "helping fight with my father" for jobs to come back from overseas.

    Saccone, a 60-year-old state lawmaker, has struggled with an electorate that favored Trump by nearly 20 percentage points just 16 months ago. He's up against 33-year-old Conor Lamb, who pitches himself as an independent-minded Democrat.

    Trump Jr., eating ice cream with Saccone at Sarris Candies in front of dozens of cameras, said Trump supporters "gotta stay in the game, they gotta stay motivated."

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    "Our guys just can't take winning for granted," Trump Jr. said. "They have to get out there, they have to continue this fight, now, for the rest of '18, in '20 and in eight years we can make a big difference. They just can't be lazy. They've gotta get out and vote, and if they get out and vote, we win easily."

    Lamb mostly stayed away from the cameras Monday, spending his final day knocking on doors in suburbs and small-towns outside Pittsburgh.

    The outcome Tuesday of 2018's first congressional elections is a barometer ahead of November's midterm elections.

    Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to claim a House majority. An upset would embolden them as they look to win in places where the party has lost ground in recent decades, and it would spook Republicans about their prospects in this tempestuous era of Trump.

    The president's son was the latest in a line of national pro-Trump figures to appear with Saccone, a strong Trump supporter who boasts one of the most conservative voting records in Pennsylvania's Legislature.

    That hasn't given Saccone much traction against Lamb, a Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, in a district with influential labor unions and a long history of coal mining and steel-making.

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    A poll released Monday by Monmouth University shows Lamb at 51 percent and Saccone at 45 percent in a district previously held by former eight-term Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned last fall amid a sex scandal.

    A key difference between Murphy and Saccone: Murphy tended to have labor union support. Saccone does not.

    GOP and Trump-aligned groups have spent more than $10 million to prop up Saccone. They've painted Lamb as a lackey of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and weak on immigration.

    "Lamb will always vote for Pelosi and Dems....Will raise taxes, weak on Crime and Border," Trump tweeted Monday.

    For his part, Lamb has held the national party at arm's length, opposing sweeping gun restrictions, endorsing Trump's new steel tariffs, avoiding attacking the president and telling voters he wouldn't back Pelosi for speaker if Democrats won a House majority.

    Lamb, however, keeps to party orthodoxy on unions.

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    He blasts the new Republican tax law as a gift to the wealthy and paints congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, as a threat to Social Security and Medicare.

    The combination has been enough to stoke excitement among the Democratic base, while giving Lamb an opening to reach moderates he'll need for a winning coalition.

    "I was really down after the presidential election, but Conor has me totally enthusiastic again," said Patricia Bancroft, 62, as she took a break from working the phones at Lamb's Allegheny County field office Monday afternoon.

    "He's the first candidate I've ever put a sign in my yard for and volunteered for," said Bancroft, adding that she's worked two shifts a week for Lamb since meeting him in January.

    Bancroft, who recently retired as a nurse practitioner, is a registered Democrat in Washington County, but Lamb managed to attract her Republican husband, as well.

    A 68-year-old retired engineer who described himself as a "John Kasich-Daddy Bush Republican," Bruce Bancroft said he always voted for Murphy, but finds Saccone too strident for the district and an already acrimonious Congress.

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    "I don't agree with Conor on every issue," Bruce Bancroft said. "But he is fair-minded, analytical, reasoned. We need more people like that in Congress on both sides of the aisle."

    The areas outside Pittsburgh have trended away from conservative Democratic representation in Congress and the state Legislature to Republican over the last two decades in districts drawn by Republicans. Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans by almost a four-to-three ratio in a district where gun rights are a high priority, and Democrats still hold some local offices.

    Saccone had a full schedule of retail visits Monday, including at an ambulance company. Touring the candy-maker, he greeted workers and urged them to vote.

    "Bring your friends and family, drag them out," he told hair-netted employees boxing up chocolate for Easter.

    Saccone on Monday insisted he did not support cuts to Medicare or Social Security, and accused the left of trying to scare seniors. He also said he didn't give the Monmouth poll much credence.

    "We're out meeting people every day and everywhere I get it's 100 to 1 for Rick Saccone," Saccone said. "So I'm ready. I'm ready for tomorrow." 

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