CANONSBURG, Pennsylvania — The final day of campaigning Monday before votes are cast in Pennsylvania’s closely watched congressional election drew a visit by Donald Trump Jr. and lots of door-knocking all over the southwestern district where polls show a close race.
President Donald Trump tweeted about “steel and business” in a final push to sway voters and Donald Trump Jr., visiting a candy-making business, touted Republican Rick Saccone as someone who will be “helping fight with my father” for jobs to come back from overseas.
Saccone, a 60-year-old state lawmaker, has struggled with an electorate that favored Trump by nearly 20 percentage points just 16 months ago. He’s up against 33-year-old Conor Lamb, who pitches himself as an independent-minded Democrat.
Trump Jr., eating ice cream with Saccone at Sarris Candies in front of dozens of cameras, said Trump supporters “gotta stay in the game, they gotta stay motivated.”
— Andrew Rush (@andrewrush) March 12, 2018
“Our guys just can’t take winning for granted,” Trump Jr. said. “They have to get out there, they have to continue this fight, now, for the rest of ’18, in ’20 and in eight years we can make a big difference. They just can’t be lazy. They’ve gotta get out and vote, and if they get out and vote, we win easily.”
The outcome Tuesday of 2018’s first congressional election is being closely watched as a key test of support for Republicans ahead of November’s midterms. Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats to claim a House majority, and an upset will embolden them as they look to win in places where the party has lost ground in recent decades.
Republicans, meanwhile, would be spooked about their prospects in this tempestuous era of Trump, who most recently visited Saturday night on Saccone’s behalf.
Trump Jr. was the latest in a line of national pro-Trump figures to appear with Saccone, a strong Trump supporter who boasts one of the most conservative voting records in Pennsylvania’s Legislature.
But that hasn’t given Saccone much traction against Lamb, a Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor in a district with influential labor unions and a long history of coal mining and steel-making.
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.
A poll released Monday by Monmouth University shows Lamb at 51 percent and Saccone at 45 percent, a district previously held by former eight-term Republican Rep. Tim Murphy.
Pollsters interviewed 372 likely voters by telephone from March 8-11. The sampling margin of error was plus or minus 5.1 percentage points.
The seat is open after Murphy resigned amid the revelation that the strongly anti-abortion lawmaker had urged a woman with whom he was having an affair to get an abortion when they thought she might be pregnant.
A key difference between Murphy and Saccone: Murphy tended to have labor union support. Saccone does not.
GOP and Trump-aligned groups have spent more than $10 million to prop up Saccone and have painted Lamb as a lackey of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and weak on immigration.
“Lamb will always vote for Pelosi and Dems….Will raise taxes, weak on Crime and Border,” Trump tweeted Monday.
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.
Lamb, however, keeps to party orthodoxy on unions.
He blasts the new Republican tax law as a gift to the wealthy and paints congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, as a threat to Social Security and Medicare.
The area has trended away from conservative Democratic representation in Congress and the state Legislature to Republican over the last two decades in districts drawn by Republicans. Registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans by almost a four-to-three ratio in a district where gun rights are a high priority, and Democrats still hold some local offices.
Saccone had a full schedule of retail visits Monday, including at an ambulance company. Touring the candy-maker, he greeted workers and urged them to vote.
“Bring your friends and family, drag them out,” he told hair-netted employees boxing up chocolate for Easter.
Lamb had no public events scheduled Monday, instead spending the day knocking on doors with his campaign volunteers. Aides say he planned to visit multiple counties in the district, which includes parts of four counties in the greater Pittsburgh area.
Meanwhile, his Allegheny County field office was hopping with activity. Local volunteers were manning phone banks, while others regularly came in to pick up their instructions for visiting voters home on the final day before polls open.
“I was really down after the presidential election, but Conor has me totally enthusiastic again … his youth, his energy, his ideas,” said Patricia Bancroft, 62, a new retiree who says Lamb is the first political candidate she’s ever volunteered for.
Saccone on Monday insisted he did not support cuts to Medicare or Social Security, and accused the left of trying to scare seniors. He also said he didn’t give the Monmouth poll much credence.
“We’re out meeting people every day and everywhere I get it’s 100 to 1 for Rick Saccone,” Saccone said. “So I’m ready. I’m ready for tomorrow.”