The Special Election in Deep Red PA-18 Is a Dead Heat

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Republican Rick Saccone ought to be soundly beating Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election in a strongly GOP district. But it doesn’t look that way.

Democrats have been going through a sort of Poll Panic of late, agonizing over the apparent loss of a big advantage in the congressional generic ballot, and also small but steady improvements in the president’s job approval ratings.

Today, it’s Republicans’ turn to look at poll numbers and freak.

A rare public poll (from Monmouth) of the special congressional election race in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania shows Democrat Conor Lamb within the margin of error of the lead of Republican Rick Saccone. The lead for Saccone ranges from five points (50/45) in a low-turnout scenario, to four points (48/44) in a very-high-turnout scenario, to just three points (49/46) in a scenario based on the turnout patterns in 2017 special elections.

That’s newsworthy because this is a race where the Republican should be far ahead. PA-18 is both strongly Republican and strongly pro-Trump. The GOP congressman (Tim Murphy) whose sex-scandal-driven resignation forced this special election faced no Democratic opponent in 2016 or 2014; even in the Democratic landslide years of 2006 and 2008 he won with 58 percent and 64 percent of the vote, respectively. There is not, moreover, any reason to expect an anti-Trump backlash to demoralize Republican voters: Trump carried the 18th by 20 points (as compared to his one-point margin in Georgia’s Sixth District, the historically Republican district that was the site of last year’s hottest House special election).

Some observers of the race have noted that Lamb, a young former prosecutor with deep roots in Pittsburgh politics, is a more attractive figure than Saccone. But the Republican has been given every bit of help money and power can arrange. Trump is scheduled to make his second appearance with Saccone next week. Mike Pence has been thumping the tubs for him as well.

Perhaps the Monmouth poll shows all this effort is necessary. And it’s obviously possible this survey is an outlier. But Monmouth has a very good reputation, and it’s not some routinely pro-Democratic outfit (indeed, a January Monmouth poll showing the Democratic congressional generic ballot lead dropping to two points probably started the current Poll Panic among members of the Donkey Party). And for the record, it used the same variable-turnout-model approach in the run-up to December’s Alabama general election, and its 2017 special election model showed a dead heat, even as most pollsters predicted a Moore win.

If Lamb does pull the upset, or even gets close, it will provide fresh evidence that 2018 could be a big year for House Democrats — and that Trump Country territory like southwest Pennsylvania isn’t safe.

The Special Election in Deep Red PA-18 Is a Dead Heat