The gerrymandering fight looming over Pennsylvania's special election

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Republican Rick Saccone says he's not surprised he's in a close race with Democrat Conor Lamb in a southwest Pennsylvania congressional district that President Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016.

The New York Times is commending Democratic Pennsylvania congressional candidate Conor Lamb for his performance in a deep-red district, saying it shows that Democrats should challenge Republicans in every race this fall.

Embarrassed Democrats quickly moved the goal posts, pivoting to today's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. (One Monmouth poll released Monday showed Lamb six points ahead.) Part of the problem is Saccone's own lack of chutzpah-even his fellow Republicans describe him as a poor fund-raiser (Lamb has personally out-raised him by 500 percent) who tends to ignore outside advice, and internal polling has shown him to be wildly unpopular in the district he hopes to represent. The special election has drawn national attention to a district that likely won't exist just two months from now.

Outside Republican groups have spent more than $8 million, vastly outspending Democratic groups on ads and get-out-the-vote efforts. "If they'd nominated a liberal who allowed the campaign to become nationalized, it would be over by now", said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "I don't think we should play games", Trump said.

President Donald Trump arrived in western Pennsylvania on Saturday night with a message for the Republican running there: Don't embarrass me.

He added, the economy is set to get even better with jobs and wages going up.

Democratic voter Brian Konick supported Trump in 2016.

Republicans in Pennsylvania have run with a slightly different spin, emphasizing that registered Democrats slightly outnumber registered Republicans in the rural areas south and west of Pittsburgh.

Over the weekend, Lamb celebrated an endorsement from the United Mine Workers, a union that sat out the 2016 election rather than endorse Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Besides bruising the president, a Lamb defeat also could shake Republican self-assurance that their new tax law can shield them from other political woes.

The gerrymandering fight looming over Pennsylvania's special election

Saccone spent the final hours of the campaign with Donald Trump, Jr, the president's oldest son, rallying at a VFW hall in his hometown of Elizabeth and warning Republicans that "the left" was energized for all the wrong reasons.

The excited supporters included Lamb's middle school football and basketball coach, Joe DelSardo, who recalled Lamb as "a leader from the beginning". The seat has been in Republican hands for the past 15 years.

The victor replaces Republican Tim Murphy, who resigned in October amid a sex scandal.

Some Democrats said they saw small gains in their take-home pay, but nothing substantial.

"Mr. Lamb has done what many Democrats have been unwilling or unable to do: speak directly and plainly to voters about their concerns".

Lamb declined to make any predictions about the outcome, but said his team "worked really hard".

Saccone told Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network in an Election Day interview that Trump is "getting beat up in Washington" by the media, bureaucrats and Hollywood.

But after immediately endorsing Saccone when he hit the stage, Trump pivoted to a 75-minute torrent of policy musings, political attacks and presidential campaign previews.

The truth that neither party wants to recognize is that a moderate Republican or a moderate Democrat is the formula for election success. The AFL-CIO counts 87,000 votes from union households - around a fifth of the electorate. You need to be running good, strong campaigns, you need to be raising money.

Contributing: Jakob Lazzaro, Eric Miller, and Caroline Vakil reported from southwestern Pennsylvania for the Medill News Service.

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