The first major special election of 2018 is set to occur less than two months from now in southwest Pennsylvania, and the result could paint a clearer picture of the political climate as the midterm election approaches.
On March 13, voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district will cast ballots in a special election to replace former Republican Representative Tim Murphy, who resigned following reports he encouraged a woman with whom he was having an affair to have an abortion.
The Republican candidate is state Representative and former Air Force counterintelligence officer Rick Saccone, while the Democratic candidate is former federal prosecutor and Marine Corps veteran Conor Lamb.
Lamb, who has cast himself as a moderate, drew headlines when he declared he would not support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House should Democrats recapture control of the chamber.
President Trump enthusiastically tweeted his support for Saccone, who has described himself as “Trump before Trump was Trump,” before traveling to the district to campaign with him last week.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan, announced it will open two field offices in the district with 50 full-time canvassers in an effort to avoid an upset Democratic victory.
“The one fact that has remained the same this year – whether Democrats have won or lost (recent special elections) – is Democrats are doing better in terms of turnout and enthusiasm,” said Kevan Yenerall, a social sciences professor at Clarion University, during an interview with Fox News.
Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district is located in the western part of the state near Pittsburgh, encompassing parts of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. President Trump handedly won the 18th district by over 20 points.
Unlike many urban areas, the Pittsburg metropolitan area has been trending Republican for decades. While Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis won around 60 percent of the vote in the Pittsburg metro area in the 1988 election, Hillary Clinton gathered only 47 percent of the vote in 2016.
Registered Democrats actually outnumber Republicans by nearly 70,000, a testament to the strength of organized labor in the district. Despite the higher number of registered Democrats, the district has a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of Republican plus 11, and former Representative Murphy ran unopposed in 2016 and 2014.
While a pair of polls have shown Saccone with a lead, the average Republican candidate running in a Congressional special election since Trump took office has underperformed Trump’s margin of victory by approximately 11 percent.
Of the five congressional special elections held since Trump was elected, only Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th district and John Curtis in Utah’s 3rd district have matched or outperformed Trump’s margin of victory (by 2 percent and 8 percent respectively).
Ron Estes in Kansas’ 4th district underperformed Trump by 21 percent, while Montana’s at-large representative Greg Gianforte underperformed Trump by 14 percent. In addition, Republican Ralph Norman underperformed Trump’s margin of victory by 16 percent in South Carolina’s 5th district.