Election day is here in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone are squaring off for a House seat in a special election that’s being closely watched for what it could say about November’s midterms.
Republicans are scrambling to stave off a Democratic upset in the western Pennsylvania district that President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out ‘subversion’ at VA MORE won by nearly 20 points in the 2016 election. A loss by Saccone, a state legislator, would send shockwaves through the political world and raise fears whether the GOP can hang on to its House majority.
The Hill will be providing live updates, including details from on the ground in Pennsylvania. Polls closed at 8 p.m.
Lion’s share of absentees will be counted tonight
Updated at 11:25 p.m.
Officials in Washington County have changed their minds and will count the county’s 1,195 absentee ballots tonight after all, as Pennsylvania hopes to name a winner at some point overnight.
Appearing on CNN, Washington County Elections Director Larry Spahr announced that officials are in the process of removing absentee ballots from secure envelopes and plan to scan them before performing an additional hand count. Spahr added that process will take “several hours.”
Lamb currently has an 847 vote lead, so Saccone will have to win a significant portion of these absentee ballots to come out on top.
Lamb rebuilds leads as absentee ballots come in
Updated at 11:15 p.m.
Lamb has slightly opened back up his lead over Saccone, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The Pennsylvania Democrat holds a 0.4-point lead, or 847 votes.
Lamb got a small bump now that Allegheny County has counted its 3,750 absentee ballots. Lamb won 1,930 of those ballots, while Saccone got 1,178.
Lamb lead down to less than 100 votes
Updated at 10:55 p.m.
With 99 percent of the ballots counted, Lamb leads by just 95 votes.
Some absentee ballots will wait until tomorrow
Updated at 10:53 p.m.
The special election will likely come down to the absentee ballots, but two counties won’t count and post those votes until Wednesday morning: Greene and Washington counties.
Greene and Washington counties’ absentee ballots make up about 20 percent of the total 6,951 absentee ballots.
Here’s the breakdown of the estimated absentee ballots in each county: Allegheny (3,750), Greene (203), Washington (1,190) and Westmoreland (1,808).
That news comes as Lamb still leads Saccone by a 0.4-point margin, with 98 percent of precincts reporting.
Absentee ballots could boost Lamb
Updated at 10:32 p.m.
Absentee ballots could boost Lamb’s dwindling lead, according to Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman.
Lamb (D) should expect a pretty healthy boost from uncounted absentees. Why? 1) They’ve historically skewed Dem 2) More than half of them are from Allegheny Co. (despite Allegheny only being ~43% of #PA18). pic.twitter.com/SAth8WtnY0
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Lamb clings to razor-thing lead
Updated at 10:27 p.m.
The margin has again shrunk, with Lamb holding on by 0.2-point lead of 540 votes, with 97 percent of precincts reporting.
Allegheny and Westmoreland counties are nearly done reporting their vote totals, while Washington County has reported 93 percent of their precincts.
The race is expected to end in a close finish. With no automatic recount for a congressional race, the close margin could mean that the losing candidate will petition for a recount.
Updated at 10:22 p.m.
With the margin so tight, it’s worth noting that Pennsylvania’s election law only allows for automatic recounts in statewide races. Only races with “a candidate for a public office which appears on the ballot in every election district” are eligible — and this race doesn’t meet that requirement.
That means there won’t be an automatic recount once the votes are all counted, although it’s possible that a candidate can petition for a recount.
Updated at 10:12 p.m.
With all the talk about Saccone versus Lamb, this isn’t a two man race. There’s also Drew Miller, the Libertarian candidate who has won just about the same number of votes as the margin between the two main candidates.
Miller has 1,267 votes with 95 percent of precincts reporting, while just 1,132 votes separate Saccone and Lamb.
Miller is an energy lawyer from Pittsburgh who does not live in the congressional district, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. But he might ending play a big role in who wins.
Dead heat in the final stretch
Updated at 10:06 p.m.
Lamb’s early lead has now nearly evaporated, with 96 percent of precincts reporting.
The Pennsylvania Democrats leads by only 0.6 percent of the vote. Saccone has pulled closer to Lamb as more rural, Republican precincts are reporting their results.
Lamb hits his mark as one county finishes its results
Updated at 9:46 p.m.
All of the votes in Greene County have officially been reported, according to The Associated Press. Saccone won the county by a margin of 58 percent to Lamb’s 42 percent. That’s right above where analyst Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said Lamb needed to be if he wants to win tonight.
Breaking: 100% of Greene Co. now reporting. Final precinct there pushed Lamb (D) up to 42. That’s 1% above what thought he needed there to win #PA18.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Clinton won just 28 percent of the vote in Greene County compared to President Trump’s 68 points. But Trump won the district by 20 points that year, so the GOP has a cushion there to underperform and still win.
RNC rep: Lamb “has essentially run as a Republican”
Updated at 9:44 p.m.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday night that Lamb “has essentially run as a Republican” in the race.
“He’s pro-gun. He says he’s personally pro-life. He says he’s pro-coal, he’s pro-tariff,” McEnany said on ABC News ahead of the election results Tuesday.
“Imagine that, a Democratic candidate who’s against Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader,” she said. “He has made himself into essentially a Republican. So you have a Republican in name and a Republican in truth running against one another.”
Analysts see a close race
Updated at 9:40 p.m.
Just hours ago, some analysts were expecting an early night. That doesn’t look to be the case now, as the race looks sets to come down to the wire.
Right now, all the counties are breaking as they would in a tied #PA18 outcome. The reason I might but a thumb on the scale for Lamb (D) is higher intensity/turnout in Dem-heavy precincts vs. GOP-heavy ones. But it’s super-close.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
Again folks this is close… but the polls suggested a slight Lamb edge heading in… I don’t see anything to doubt that. We’ll see though. Votes need to be counted.
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) March 14, 2018
PENNSYLVANIA 18: With 63% in, Saccone running 8% behind Trump in Allegheny, 12% behind in Greene, 11% in Washington, and 9% behind in Westmoreland. This looks like a 51-48% Lamb win (6800 vote margin), but still too tight to call #PA18
— John Couvillon (@WinWithJMC) March 14, 2018
Saccone narrows gap
Updated at 9:16 p.m.
The gap is shrinking between the two candidates, even as Lamb continues to outperform or hit the benchmarks he needs to pull off an upset.
With 40 percent of precincts reporting in The Associated Press’s tabulations, Lamb leads 54 percent to 45 percent.
The Democrat is at about 58 percent of the vote in Allegheny County, his stronghold, while Saccone is leading in the reliably Republican Westmoreland County.
The New York Times is interpreting those results as a 53 percent chance of Lamb winning. But keep an eye on the margins in those two key counties to see who is able to turn out more of their base.
Former GOP rep: Respect the blue wave
Updated at 9:13 p.m.
Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), an outspoken internal critic of the GOP, tweeted that Republicans need a wake-up call after Democrats’ strong performance in a district Trump won by nearly 20 points.
Walsh urged that Republicans must not “dismiss” a blue wave that’s forming ahead of the November midterm elections, cautioning that the party will lose if they do.
“Wake up Republicans. A blue wave is coming. Don’t dismiss the blue wave. Respect the blue wave. Or we won’t defeat the blue wave,” Walsh tweeted Tuesday night.
Reporters, Dems bemoan return of NYT needle made infamous in 2016
Updated at 9:04 p.m.
Journalists and election watchers on Tuesday begrudgingly turned their eyes to The New York Times’s election forecast needle dial as early returns showed Conor Lamb with a lead.
The needle gained notoriety during the 2016 presidential race, when it moved from a solid forecast for Hillary Clinton toward a victory for President Trump. It then correctly forecast a victory for Sen. Doug Jones in December’s special election in Alabama.
“I hate that needle so very much,” Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzSchatz’s ignorance of our Anglo-American legal heritage illustrates problem with government Dem senator trolls Trump over Mueller indictments: ‘This is a VERY well done hoax’ Trashing our Anglo-American legal tradition does no one any favors MORE (D-Hawaii) tweeted.
I hate that needle so very much.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) March 14, 2018
“Hello darkness my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again,” CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski tweeted, pairing Simon and Garfunkel lyrics with an image of the needle.
Hello darkness my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again pic.twitter.com/LUbem5hVll
— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) March 13, 2018
Gabe Fleisher, who writes the “Wake Up to Politics” newsletter, joked that he told himself he wouldn’t look to the needle for early results.
“Me now: refresh refresh refresh what does the needle say refresh,” he added.
Me twenty minutes ago: Early results don’t mean anything. I won’t start watching them until later.
Me now: refresh refresh refresh what does the needle say refresh
— Gabe Fleisher (@WakeUp2Politics) March 14, 2018
Before Tuesday’s race, The New York Times posted an explainer on how the needle works.
Shortly after 9 p.m, the needle estimated that Saccone has a 60 percent chance of winning. Then, minutes later, the needle swung back to an even race — showing where it got its anxiety-inducing reputation for political observers.
— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) March 14, 2018
Lamb pulls ahead
Updated at 8:47 p.m.
Lamb is extending his lead over Saccone, though it’s still very early in the night.
The Pennsylvania Democrat is leading by more than 20 points — 60.7 to 38.8 percent — with 5 percent of precincts reporting.
Results still have yet to roll in from precincts in Washington and Westmoreland counties.
Some elections experts say that the early results are so far a good sign for Lamb and that he’s running ahead of expectations in Greene County.
Good news for Lamb: He appears to be running ahead of expectations in fragmentary returns white, working class, traditionally Dem Greene County. He inches ahead in our estimate.
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) March 14, 2018
Optimism at Lamb party
Updated at 8:45 p.m.
The mood at the Lamb election watch party is enthusiastic as Democrats sense an upset in the making. They are cheering enthusiastically at every positive mention of Lamb on CNN — the cable news network of choice at the party in the ballroom of a suburban hotel.
Lamb supporters are touting homemade signs, including a silhouette of a lamb with “Conor” written on it and pictures of Lamb’s face taped onto popsicle sticks.
First results coming in
Updated at 8:33 p.m.
The first returns are in, and Lamb has taken an early lead with 1 percent of precincts reporting.
Lamb leads Saccone by 5 points, 52 percent to 47.2 percent. The results come from Allegheny and Greene counties.
Some political observers predict that if Lamb wants to pull off an upset, he’ll need to win Allegheny with at least 58 percent of the vote and Greene with at least 41 percent of the vote.
ICYMI: Here’s what I’d estimate Conor Lamb (D) needs in each #PA18 county to win tonight:
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 14, 2018
▪️ ALLEGHENY COUNTY
– 40% of all votes in #PA18 district
– Lamb must win it by at least +16 to have a shot to win overall.
– 30% of votes
– Saccone must win by more than +15
– 20% of votes
– Saccone must win by more than +7 https://t.co/rHUrO7wu2o
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) March 14, 2018
Republicans rush to tamp down expectations
Updated at 8:12 p.m.
Faced with the prospect of an upset defeat, Republicans are scrambling to lower expectations by raising concerns about their candidate.
Republicans worried from the start about whether Saccone could raise enough money to mount a competitive race — concerns that turned out well-founded, since Lamb raised more than four times as much as Saccone.
As the polling has moved away from Saccone, Republicans have responded by criticizing him — a move that, not coincidentally, would pin any blame on the candidate instead of voters’ mood toward the party or President Trump.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill’s 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.), poured millions into the district. But in a Tuesday interview with The Wall Street Journal, Congressional Leadership Fund chief Cory Bliss blasted Saccone.
“In this environment, bad candidates and bad campaigns won’t cut it,” he said.
On Monday, Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman Val DiGiorgio referred to the district as a “Democrat district” in an interview with Fox News, even though the district regularly votes Republican at the federal level.
Even Saccone himself tried to lower expectations on Tuesday as he cast his ballot, saying that Democrats have thrown “everything” at the district — although Democrats have been massively outspent by Republicans.
Updated at 8 p.m.
Polls are now closed.
It’s unclear how quickly results will roll in, but some political observers believe it’ll be an earlier night since there aren’t many early and absentee votes to count.
Have a feeling tonight won’t be *that* late a night. There are extremely few early/absentee votes in PA, meaning we should be able to match #PA18 precinct results to past results fairly quickly & see what’s up.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 13, 2018
Special election spending breakdown
Updated at 7:55 p.m.
A total of $18 million has been invested in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, according to Issue One, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign finance.
Democrats were massively outspent by Republicans. GOP outside groups spent $11 million on the race compared to Democrats who spent $2 million.
Of that outside spending, about 70 percent of it has been on negative ads.
Despite the disparity in outside spending, Lamb dominated in candidate fundraising, outraising his opponent by nearly $3 million. Lamb raised $4.2 million, while Saccone brought in $1.2 million.
A disappearing district
Updated at 6 p.m.
The special election has captivated the political world and drawn millions of dollars to western Pennsylvania. But within a matter of months, the 18th District will no longer exist in its current form.
That’s because Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court redrew the state’s congressional lines in its gerrymandering case. While Republicans are currently challenging it, the new map will likely hold and transform the district into a more conservative seat.
No matter what the outcome is tonight, both Lamb and Saccone will need to scramble to run again since the filing period closes in a week.
Saccone has said that, win or lose, he’ll run again in the district. And he’s already started circulating petitions.
Lamb is still a mystery. He has said he will run again, but it remains an open question of which district. If he runs again for this seat, he’ll face a much steeper battle.
Even with the district disappearing, though, Tuesday night’s race has the potential to have a major impact on the midterms, especially if Democrats pull off an upset.
Snowfall picking up
Updated at 4:15 p.m.
Election day started with a series of minor snow flurries, but now the snow is picking up in the Pittsburgh-area district, threatening to scare some voters away from the polls.
The snowfall focused on the eastern area of the district, which is considered more Republican.
Speaking to reporters in the afternoon outside a polling place in Westmoreland County, Lamb told reporters he doesn’t expect the snow to impact voter turnout.
Lamb takes his grandmother to the polls
Updated at 12:15 p.m.
And now we have @ConorLambPA helping his grandmother to the car after she voted. Her husband, Thomas, was the former Democratic Majority Leader in the Pennsylvania State Senate #pa18 pic.twitter.com/dLk6PjOzI2
— Ben Kamisar (@bkamisar) March 13, 2018
Lamb leads in polls
Updated at 11:30 a.m.
Polls on the eve of the election found Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, leading Saccone. Democrats are hoping that a victory, or even a narrow loss, in the solidly Republican district will give more credibility to the idea that Democrats are about to take back the House in a wave election — and maybe prompt a few Republicans to retire instead of run for reelection.
The winner of the special election will serve out the remainder of ex-Rep. Tim MurphyTim MurphyTrump to Pa. GOP: Challenge congressional map all the way to Supreme Court Pennsylvania Supreme Court releases new congressional map Dems don’t plan to put more money into heated Pa. race MORE’s (R) term through November. Murphy, a vocal opponent of abortion rights, resigned from the seat in October after reports that he asked his mistress to have an abortion.
—Brett Samuels and Jacqueline Thomsen contributed