Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory early Wednesday in a surprisingly close special election for a U.S. House seat many viewed as a referendum on Republican President Donald Trump, although the final vote counts had not been determined.
Lamb, a first-time candidate, held a narrow lead over Republican Rick Saccone to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, a Republican stronghold that Trump carried by nearly 20 points in the 2016 election. The seat had been controlled by Republicans for 15 years.
But the lack of an official vote count did not stop Lamb from claiming victory before exuberant supporters. He said voters instructed him to “do your job” in Washington, to which he responded, “Mission accepted.”
The former prosecutor and U.S. Marine veteran clung to a narrow 627 vote lead over Saccone, according to state election figures. A total of 224,000 votes were cast, with Lamb capturing 113,813 — or 49.8-percent — compared to 113,186 — or 49.6-percent — for Saccone. A small number of provisional, absentee and overseas ballots will be counted in the coming days so official results may not be announced until next week at the earliest.
While Lamb, other Democrats and some media outlets have declared Lamb the winner, Saccone did not concede.
Lamb’s strong showing at the ballot box is certain to spark concern among Republicans nationwide and fuel enthusiasm among Democrats, particularly since the mid-term elections are just eight months away, when the Republican Party’s majorities in the House and Senate are at risk.
Because the race remains so close, supporters for either candidate can request a recount. But stringent requirements must be met for a recount, including a requirement that at least three voters in the same precinct can verify fraud or error was committed.
If Lamb is declared the winner, he would have little time to bask in the glow of the high-profile win, as he would face re-election in the in the November mid-term elections. He would have to decide which district to run in because the State Supreme Court discarded the state’s current congressional map and recently replaced it with a new map with redrawn boundaries.
President Trump and many of his allies invested enormous amounts of time and money to keep the seat in Republican hands. The White House scrambled to rally voters to support Saccone, but Lamb’s high-energy campaign and Saccone’s limited ability to connect with Trump’s blue-collar coalition may have been too much to overcome.
The president made two appearances with Saccone, most recently at a rally Saturday in the district. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., campaigned with Saccone on Monday. The president’s daughter, Ivanka, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also campaigned for Saccone.
Republican campaign committees and super Political Action Committees (PACs) — which can raise unlimited amounts of money — spent nearly $11 million to support Saccone, according to records filed Monday night by Federal Election Commission. That was over five times more money than their Democratic counterparts spent on Lamb.
Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran, state legislator and college instructor, was widely supported by social conservatives throughout his state career. He launched his campaign saying he would serve as “Trump’s wingman” in Washington and promoted himself as “Trump before Trump.” But polls showed a tight race for months, as Saccone struggled to raise money and rekindle the passions of the voters who propelled Trump to victory.
The special election was held following Republican Tim Murphy’s resignation from the seat last year after he reportedly encouraged a woman with whom he had an affair to get an abortion.
Democrats must win 24 Republican-held seats in the mid-term elections to take control of the House.
As of February 28, thirty-six House Republicans announced they were not running for new terms, according to Pew Research Center. Sixteen Democrats have also decided not to run for new terms. This means more House members, including a record number of Republicans, have elected not to seek re-election to the House than at any time in the past quarter-century, according to Pew.