Democrat Conor Lamb is pounding his Republican opponent Rick Saccone in fundraising ahead of the March 13 special election for a vacant U.S. House seat in a conservative southwestern Pennsylvania district, a contest viewed as a gauge of Republican strength ahead of 2018’s midterm elections.
The district, covering Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs and southwestern Pennsylvania’s coal mines, steel plants and gas fields, has long been a Republican stronghold and strongly backed President Donald Trump in 2016. But polls show a tight race and it has emerged as the nation’s political hotspot as Lamb tries for an upset.
Lamb reported raising more than $3.3 million in the first seven weeks of 2018, almost five times the $703,000 Saccone reported in filings to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday night.
Lamb spent most of the money, leaving him $837,000 in cash heading into the final three weeks of the race. That was more than twice as much as the $303,000 Saccone reported.
The race has drawn heavy attention and millions of dollars from Republicans and Trump in an effort to bolster Saccone and protect the GOP’s U.S. House majority. Trump has made one visit to the district, and promised another, while Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, have made appearances with Saccone in the district, as well.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is heading to the district Tuesday to campaign for Lamb.
Democrats must flip at least 24 GOP-held seats to capture a majority, and a Lamb victory would raise their national hopes considerably.
Trump won the congressional district easily in 2016, downing Democrat Hillary Clinton by almost 20 percentage points. The former eight-term incumbent, Tim Murphy, never had a close election, and didn’t even have a Democratic challenger in his last two elections.
Murphy, a prominent opponent of abortion rights, resigned in October, after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obtained text messages in which he suggested a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair get an abortion when they thought she might be pregnant.
One key difference between Saccone and Murphy, however, is that Murphy had labor union support, while Saccone does not.
To erase Lamb’s fundraising advantage, Republican and Trump-aligned groups are pouring millions into the race — roughly $8 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings — while Democratic groups have reported spending roughly $1 million.
Saccone, 60, is a four-term state lawmaker with among the state Legislature’s most conservative voting records, based on the American Conservative Union ratings. He is a retired Air Force counterintelligence officer and college professor who served as a civilian adviser in Iraq.
Lamb, 33, left his post as an assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh to run. He was a lawyer in the Marine Corps and comes from a political family, with an uncle who is the elected city controller of Pittsburgh and a grandfather who was the Democratic majority leader in Pennsylvania’s state Senate.