By Bill Barrow, Marc Levy and Steve Peoples | Associated Press
MT. LEBANON, Pa. — A razor’s edge separated Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone early Wednesday in their closely watched special election in Pennsylvania, where a surprisingly strong bid by first-time candidate Lamb severely tested Donald Trump’s sway in a GOP stronghold.
Lamb claimed victory before exuberant supporters after midnight, though many absentee ballots were still to be counted in the contest that has drawn national attention as a bellwether for the midterm elections in November when the Republican Party’s House and Senate majorities are at risk.
Lamb, a Marine veteran, told his crowd that voters had directed him to “do your job” in Washington. “Mission accepted,” he declared. Earlier, Saccone told his own supporters, “It’s not over yet, we’re going to fight all the way, all the way to the end, we’ll never give up.”
Regardless of the outcome — and a recount was possible — Lamb’s showing in a district Trump won by 20 points in the presidential race was sure to stoke anxiety among Republicans nationwide and renewed enthusiasm among Democrats.
After midnight with all precincts reporting, unofficial results had Lamb leading Republican state Rep. Saccone by fewer than 600 votes. More than 1,000 absentee ballots were still being tabulated as the count carried into Wednesday.
The stakes in the high-profile special election were more political than practical.
The ultimate winner will face re-election in just eight months, and the congressional district as currently shaped will likely vanish next year. Yet President Trump and his chief allies invested tremendous time and resources in keeping the seat in Republican hands.
The White House had scrambled to rally voters behind Saccone, who cast himself as the president’s “wingman,” but he struggled at times to connect with the blue-collar coalition that fueled Trump’s victory little more than a year ago.
In a race this close, either candidate’s supporters can ask for a recount. However there are stiff requirements, including requiring three voters in the same precinct who can attest that error or fraud was committed.
Lamb, a 33-year old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, downplayed his opposition to the Republican president on Tuesday and insisted instead that the race hinged on local issues.
“This didn’t have much to do with President Trump,” Lamb said after casting his vote in suburban Pittsburgh.
Because of a state court decision redrawing Pennsylvania’s congressional boundaries, the winner will have to start campaigning for re-election almost immediately in a different district. Still, the election has far greater political consequences as each party prepares for the November midterm elections.
For the White House and its Republican allies, a loss would represent both a profound embarrassment and a major cause for concern in the broader push to defend majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. [btnsx id=”5955″]