In a highly watched special election in western Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb repeated his declaration of victory Wednesday afternoon as Republican Rick Saccone vowed to keep fighting.
With all precincts fully reporting and absentee ballots counted, Lamb held a 627-vote lead over Saccone in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, a GOP stronghold that President Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points during the 2016 election. NBC News declared Lamb the “apparent winner” and the New York Times has called the race for the Democrat, while the Associated Press said the race was too close to call.
Some Republicans, fearing a loss, were scrambling for a new playbook. As my colleague Jonathan Tamari wrote, the fact that Lamb was even close in a district that didn’t even have a Democratic candidate the previous two cycles provides “another daunting data point for Republican incumbents wondering if they might be better off retiring, including those in tougher Pennsylvania districts.”
And all this for a district that likely won’t even exist in November, thanks to a new congressional map drawn by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In fact, even if Lamb’s declarations of victory are correct, he could be running for reelection in a different district against Republican incumbent Rep. Keith Rothfus, due to the location of his house.
Here is a recap of reactions to the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district:
5:30 p.m.: New York Times declares Lamb the winner
The Times said Lamb had an “insurmountable lead.”
Breaking News: The Democrat Conor Lamb has an insurmountable lead in a Pennsylvania House race in Trump country. We’re calling it in his favor.https://t.co/mGgHxH6AQ2
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 14, 2018
4:40 p.m.: Saccone seeks donations, says race is ‘far from over’
Saccone’s campaign has emailed supporters to ask for donations, saying Lamb’s claim of victory is “complete nonsense.”
Even as Republican leadership warns House members/candidates that Rick Saccone's loss was a wakeup call that needs to be heeded Saccone sends out a fundraising email to say the race "isn't over." pic.twitter.com/bCHlsKPHAu
— Daniel (@DanielStrauss4) March 14, 2018
3:18 p.m.: Lamb tweets ‘we did it’
We did it.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I'm so grateful to everyone who made this possible.
I'm proud of what we accomplished last night. I'm proud to be a Western Pennsylvania Democrat. And I'm ready to get to work for the people of #PA18.
— Conor Lamb (@ConorLambPA) March 14, 2018
1:40 p.m.: Strong turnout for an off-year special election
Turnout for Tuesday night’s special election was strong, especially considering there wasn’t a president on the ballot (thought Trump was certainly on the mind of voters) and the winner will face another re-election in just a few months.
All told, 224,254 ballots were cast in the election, a 35 percent increase from the 166,076 votes that were cast in 2014 for former Rep. Tim Murphy, who ran unopposed during the last midterm election. It even exceeded the 214,912 votes the 18th District cast during Pennsylvania’s 2014 gubernatorial election.
The number crunchers at ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight dug even deeper into the numbers:
“The number of votes Lamb received was 80 percent of the number of votes Clinton received in this district in 2016 — but Saccone got just 53 percent of the number of votes Trump got. Anecdotally, turnout was also much higher in Democratic precincts than it was in Republican precincts. But, crucially for Democrats, the results hinted that maybe that Democratic turnout advantage is transferable to the higher-turnout environment of a midterm election.”
1 p.m.: Officials don’t expect provisional, military ballots to change outcome
With all precincts reporting and all absentee ballots counted, election officials said the number of provisional and military ballots are typically small and would not chance the outcome of the race.
Westmoreland County elections director Beth Lechman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the county has about 20 provisional ballots to count and had received 23 military ballots. Nearly 72,000 ballots were cast in Westmoreland County, a little less than a third of the 228,000 votes cast in the special election.
Lechman also told the Associated Press that she hadn’t heard any complaints from the Saccone campaign or Republican officials about voting or counting irregularities in Westmoreland county.
12:09 p.m.: ‘Trump is a weight around the GOP’s neck’
That’s the headline on a new piece by conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, summing up the worst fears of Republicans heading into the 2018 midterm elections:
“The race should be a blaring wake-up call to Republicans (“Commence panicking!”). This blue-collar district in the Rust Belt, ideally designed for President Trump, gave him a 20-point margin of victory 16 months ago. Moreover, the district has consistently voted Republican over the past few election cycles, and to top it off, Trump personally visited there twice, most recently on Saturday. Trump even announced tariffs designed to placate steel workers. And yet that 20-point advantage disappeared, thanks to massive Democratic turnout.”
11:29 a.m.: All absentee votes are counted, and Lamb still leads
Greene County has finished counting its absentee ballots, and Lamb remains ahead of Saccone by a razor-thin margin of just 627 votes.
Here are the current vote totals, with 100 percent of precincts reporting:
Conor Lamb, Democrat: 113,813 – 49.8 percent
Rick Saccone, Republican: 113,186 – 49.6 percent
Miller, Libertarian: 1,379 – 0.6 percent
11:06 a.m.: GOP reportedly looking to impound voting machines
Republican officials are investigating a number of “purported Election Day irregularities” and plan to ask a court to impound all voting machines used in Tuesday’s election, pending a recount, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette politics reporter Chris Potter.
According to the Post-Gazette, Republicans are looking at claims there were problems with voting machines and voters being told to go to the wrong polling places.
The GOP also is looking into Republican attorneys being barred from overseeing the counting of absentee ballots in Allegheny County, but county spokeswoman Amie Downs told the Post-Gazette that under the state’s Election Code, the observers didn’t provide the required paperwork until the end of the evening, after the ballots had already been scanned.
10:52 a.m.: Republicans not ruling out a recount
With about 200 absentee ballots to be recounted in Greene County, as well as additional provisional and military ballots still outstanding, the national Republican Party isn’t ruling out calling for a recount.
“We are waiting for provisional ballots to be counted,” Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. “We are not ruling out a recount.”
According to Pennsylvania state law, an automatic recount is triggered if a candidate wins an election by less than 0.5 percentage points. But that law doesn’t apply to elections in individual districts, meaning petitions to have a recount would have to be filed by voters within five days, according to CNN political reporter. David Wright.
Pennsylvania Sec. of State spokesperson Wanda Murren tells CNN that b/c this is a district race & not statewide, there is no mandatory recount here. Petitions are allowed, which require 3 voters in each precinct; have 5 days to file after the county completes its computation.
— David Wright (@DavidWright_CNN) March 14, 2018
10:42 a.m.: Dent says Republicans facing ‘a hurricane force wind’
During an appearance on CNN Wednesday morning, retiring Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.) didn’t mince words about the trouble his party faces in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
“I think most Republicans realize we’re running into a very serious headwind – a hurricane force wind. It’s coming and we have to be ready for it,” Dent said while discussing the results of the 18th district’s special election. He also told CNN to keep its ears open to more retirements in the wake of last night’s special election.
Dent, a seven-term centrist Republican and one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent representatives in Congress, announced back in September he would not seek reelection.
“I’ve always come to accept a certain amount of dysfunction in government, but I guess they’ve taken it to a new level,” Dent said of the instability coming from the White House. “They’ve taken the ‘fun’ out of dysfunction.”
10:30 a.m.: GOP campaign chief: Results a ‘wake-up call’
Rep. Steve Stivers (R., Ohio), the campaign chief for House Republicans, called the results of Tuesday’s special election a “wake-up call” for his party.
“This is a wake-up call. If you’re getting outraised, this is a wake-up call,” Stivers told Republicans during a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning, according to The Hill. “Prepare to bear down.”
9:40 a.m.: Fox & Friends hosts call Lamb ‘cute’
There are many reasons why Lamb could end up winning the special election in the 18th district, but the host of Fox & Friends cited one major one Wednesday morning — he’s cute.
“Brit Hume said he was cute a couple a nights ago,” host Steve Doocy declared. Ainsley Earhardy called Lamb “very handsome” and Brian Kilmeade concluded “sometimes cuteness counts.”
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 14, 2018
6:38 a.m.: NBC says Lamb the ‘apparent winner’
Early Wednesday morning, NBC News declared Lamb the “apparent winner” over Saccone.
“We waited all night to see could Rick Saccone beat that trend we’ve been seeing and really get a big number out of Washington County in the absentee ballots. He completely did not do that,” NBC News national political correspondent Steve Kornacki reported. “And so, Connor Lamb is the apparent winner.”
Democrat Conor Lamb is the apparent winner over Republican Rick Saccone Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District special election, according to an NBC News projection. https://t.co/XRGHrHlNCy pic.twitter.com/4TqXdwN0xh
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 14, 2018
Staff writer Michael Boren contributed to this article.