More trouble for Trump's candidate in Pennsylvania special election

UNITED STATES- MARCH 06 Speaker of the House Paul Ryan R-Wis. right and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy R-Calif. conduct a news conference in the Capitol after a meeting of the House Republican Conference

Tom Williams CQ-Roll Call Group

Polls released last week show Mr Lamb has closed the gap on his Republican counterpart and at least two polls show him with a lead of three or more points.

Outside GOP groups have spent more than $10 million, much of it to paint Lamb as a Pelosi lackey. He resigned due to an extramarital affair in which he suggested his partner get an abortion. Here's what we'll be watching.

But when looking at the race through a lower turnout model that resembles past midterm cycles, Lamb's lead shrinks to just 2 points, 49 to 47 percent. If there's a surge of Democratic support for Lamb, however, the poll had him up by six points, 51-46 percent. Other recent polls have shown the race as being similarly close. That's another positive sign for Lamb, especially in a polarized era where fewer and fewer voters cross party lines. The president himself appeared with Saccone in early February, and then returned to the district Saturday night for one of his patented "campaign rallies".

Lamb has crystallized the debate over whether a younger, charismatic Democrat appealing to win back traditionally Democratic voters can overcome Republican party loyalty in a GOP-leaning district at a time when Trump remains a divisive figure. "We need Republicans. We need the votes".

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"Normally this would be a bad strategy [for Republicans], but it's clearly the way to stay competitive", said political scientist Michael Franz, with the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks campaign advertising and spending.

"The people of Pittsburgh", Trump declared last weekend, "cannot be conned by this guy Lamb".

Pennsylvania voter Michelle Grimpe similarly tells CNN that she's backing Saccone - but she says that she doesn't "like necessary how the president presents himself" and she said that Trump's attitude made her feel tempted to back Saccone's rival, Democrat Conor Lamb.

A key difference between Murphy and Saccone: Murphy tended to have labor union support. "He's good with the Second Amendment".

Democrat Conor Lamb delivers a speech at a campaign rally in Houston, Pennsylvania, on January 13, 2018.

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However, when it comes to campaigning, Saccone diverges with Trump's successful strategy of running as an outsider, instead boasting of his decades of experience in Pennsylvania politics.

"This district has voted overwhelmingly Republican in recent elections, but a large number of these voters have blue-collar Democratic roots", Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement. Regardless of Tuesday's outcome, the race has highlighted a central challenge for Republican candidates in 2018: how to embrace the more popular parts of Trump's record while distancing themselves from the president's less popular policies and controversial rhetoric.

For his part, Lamb has held the national party at arm's length, opposing sweeping gun restrictions, endorsing Trump's new steel tariffs, avoiding attacking the president and telling voters he wouldn't back Pelosi for speaker if Democrats won a House majority.

That's not a winning formula for a Democrat running in a deep-blue state like MA or California. The strategy could also be a gamble: By reaching out to centrist Democrats and Republicans, Lamb risks alienating more progressive Democrats. Republicans notched several wins in the first half of 2017, but that momentum was stopped with Democratic victories in Virginia and Alabama at the end of the year. The race pits Republican Rick Saccone against Democratic nominee Carter Lamb. He will make an appearance before Election Day to campaign for Rick Saccone.

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