Today is the special election to fill the vacant 18th Congressional District seat in southwestern Pennsylvania. The seat became vacant when former Republican Representative Tim Murphy admitted to cheating on his wife. Murphy, who publicly espoused pro-life views, also asked his mistress to have an abortion. President Donald Trump won the district by 20 percentage points, but today’s race is predicted to be much closer than that.
Here’s what you should know as Pennsylvanians go to the polls today:
1.Who’s running? … Three candidates are running for the open seat. They are Republican state Representative Richard Saccone, Democratic former assistant U.S. attorney and Marine Corps veteran Conor Lamb, and Libertarian Drew Miller.
2. It’s a very close race … Despite Donald Trump’s decisive victory in the district a year and a half ago, the race remains too close to call. Among the three most recent public polls, the Democrat, Lamb, has the lead in two of them. All of the polls taken in the month of March have been within the margin of error. The data folks over at 538 caution that special elections are tough to predict and that the current special election cycle has seen some significant swings toward the Democrats.
What could be even more troubling for Republicans is that according to 538, there has been a 29 percent swing toward Democrats in special state representative elections in Pennsylvania since Trump became president.
3. Saccone is a very bad candidate … According to Politico, Saccone has had anemic fundraising numbers. The Democrat Lamb has outraised Saccone by a five-to-one margin. That has required outside groups and the national party to come into the district, which should be a safe one, to try to rescue Saccone. In addition to anemic fundraising, Saccone hired a political strategist of whom the party and White House did not approve.
4. Lamb is running on moderate and conservative themes … The district is full of Reagan Democrats, and while past Democratic candidates did not appeal to these conservative-leaning Democrats, Lamb does. Lamb claims that he is personally opposed to abortion but is supportive of so-called abortion rights. He has run a campaign ad with a picture of him shooting what appears to be an AR-15. And most of all, he has claimed not to support Nancy Pelosi. In that part of the country, Democrats pretending to be moderate win elections. See, for instance, Joe Manchin, the senator from nearby West Virginia.
5. President Trump has made two visits … Underscoring the importance the White House is placing on the election, President Trump made his second visit to the district this past weekend.
6. Outside spending has favored Saccone … While Saccone has raised relatively little money, the outside groups that have come in to try to rescue his candidacy have spent over $10 million either in support of Saccone or against Lamb.
7. Polls close at 8.p.m. … The polls close at 8 p.m. Results will begin to be reported after that.
This district should not be competitive. While public polling is often wildly off in a special election, other data points such as campaign infrastructure and fundraising point to an advantage for the Democrat in a heavily Republican district.
Just how worried are Pennsylvania Republicans about this race? The chairman of the state party said that the district, held since 2003 by a Republican, is a “Democrat district.”
Robert Eno is the director of research for Conservative Review. He is a conservative from deep blue Massachusetts but now lives in Greenville, SC.