PITTSBURGH — Democrat Conor Lamb heads into the final day of the special congressional election in western Pennsylvania with the lead, according to a new public poll released Monday.
Monmouth University used three different turnout models ahead of Tuesday’s special election —and Lamb has the advantage in all three of them.
Lamb is squaring off against Republican Rick Saccone, a state legislator and Air Force veteran in a traditionally blue-collar district that backed President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016. They’re competing to replace GOP Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned in October.
Lamb leads Saccone, 51 percent to 45 percent, the poll shows — using a turnout model that mirrors a Democratic surge that’s appeared in other special elections throughout the last year. Three percent of likely voters are undecided, and 1 percent would support another candidate.
A Monmouth poll released in mid-February, using the same model, found Saccone with a slight edge, 49 percent to 46 percent.
The poll suggests Lamb can win even if that Democratic surge falls short, however. In a more-restrictive turnout model — designed to mirror a lower-turnout electorate that typically votes in midterm elections — Lamb has a slim, 2-point lead, 49 percent to 47 percent. A higher-turnout scenario, more similar to a presidential election, produces a 7-point Lamb lead, 51 percent to 44 percent.
“When added to a potential Democratic surge that has been building for weeks, Lamb appears to have picked off enough Republican-leaning voters to take a lead going into this contest’s final weekend,” said Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray. “It would mark an extraordinary swing from Trump’s nearly 20-point victory here in 2016 if he could hold on to win.”
Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, is running as a centrist Democrat. He has called for new leadership in both parties and said he would oppose Nancy Pelosi as leader.
Saccone has frustrated national Republicans with his lackluster fundraising, which has forced outside groups like Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee to dump more than $10 million into the district.
Republicans used that money to accuse Lamb of being aligned with Pelosi and to attack his tenure as a federal prosecutor.
End Citizens United and VoteVets, both progressive groups, gave Lamb some cover on TV ads, totaling $600,000.
Despite the barrage of attack ads, Lamb’s negatives haven’t ticked up significantly over the past few weeks, according to the poll. A majority of likely voters, 53 percent, have a favorable impression of Lamb, compared to 33 percent who view him unfavorably. Last month, Lamb’s image rating stood at 49 percent favorable, versus 31 percent unfavorable.
Fewer voters, 47 percent, have a favorable opinion of Saccone, and 43 percent view him unfavorably.
The Monmouth poll was conducted March 8-11 — with most of the interviews coming before Trump’s rally last Saturday night in the district. But the poll indicates Trump’s backing of Saccone may be a wash for the Republican nominee.
Voters are evenly split on Trump: 49 percent approve his job performance, and the same percentage disapprove. The proportion of likely voters who strongly approve of Trump’s job performance (39 percent) and strongly disapprove (41 percent) are also nearly identical.
At Saturday’s rally for Saccone, Trump touted his recent decision to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. But voters in the district aren’t convinced: 43 percent think the tariffs will help the local economy, compared to 36 percent who think they will hurt.
And virtually every voter surveyed, 96 percent, said the tariff decision hasn’t caused them to change their choice of candidate. Three percent said the tariffs make them more likely to vote for Saccone, while 1 percent said they are more likely to vote for Lamb.
“Voters are divided on the potential impact of tariffs. It doesn’t seem that the president’s gambit paid off in this race if that was his intent,” said Murray. Still, he noted that the poll was taken largely before the rally “and we don’t have a clear picture of what impact that might“ have.
“A Saccone victory is still well within the poll’s margin of error,“ Murray said, “especially if a Democratic surge does not materialize in the Pittsburgh suburbs.”
Steven Shepard reported from Arlington, Virginia.