The chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party said Monday the special election in which Democrat Conor Lamb is running neck-and-neck with Republican Rick Saccone is in a “Democrat district,” even though it was represented by a Republican for more than a decade and President Donald Trump won it handily in 2016.
“The other reason it’s so tight is, you have to remember, this is a Democrat district, not withstanding the fact that the president won this by 20 points,” Pennsylvania GOP chairman Val DiGiorgio told Fox News on Monday. “And Conor Lamb is running at least trying to portray himself as a moderate who goes along with the Republicans on conservative issues. But when you drill down, you realize that's not really true.”
That Lamb has run so close to Saccone in a district long held by a Republican has been cited as evidence of a possible wave of Democratic success in next November’s midterm elections. In 2017, Democrats running in special elections lost closer-than-expected races in Georgia, Montana and Kansas and won the Alabama Senate seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Republicans, meanwhile, have been bracing for a defeat in Tuesday's special election, complaining that Saccone is a weak candidate.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania GOP did not immediately respond to a request Monday to elaborate on DiGiorgio's comments. He did predict a win for Saccone, for whom Trump hosted a rally last Saturday night, though DiGiorgio also said in the Fox News interview that the party in control of the White House often struggles to maintain voter enthusiasm in the subsequent midterm elections.
Trump won the 18th congressional district, located in the southwestern part of the state, by 19 percentage points in the 2016 election, and former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy had represented the district in Congress since 2003. He won reelection unopposed in 2016.
Murphy, a staunch anti-abortion advocate, resigned in October after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he had asked a woman with whom he was romantically involved to have an abortion.
The district is home to more registered Democrats than Republicans, 46 percent to 41 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. But the Cook Political Report’s 2017 Partisan Voting Index gave Pennsylvania’s 18th district a rating of R+11, meaning it performed 11 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole over the last two presidential elections.