Uncertainty Over House Race Ends as Saccone Concedes to Lamb

(Bloomberg) -- Democrat Conor Lamb sealed his stunning upset in a special election for a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat that had been in Republican hands for 15 years with a concession from his Republican opponent, state Representative Rick Saccone, a week after voting ended.

"While there are less than 800 votes separating us, the people of the 18th District deserve to have a voice representing them in Congress," Saccone said in a statement. Lamb, 33, said in a tweet that Saccone congratulated him and conceded in a phone call.

Uncertainty Over House Race Ends as Saccone Concedes to Lamb

Lamb’s narrow win, which still must be certified by the state, is an embarrassing defeat for President Donald Trump, who’d campaigned for the GOP candidate just before the election.

Lamb led Saccone by just 627 votes out of about 228,000 cast. The race remained unsettled for days after the March 13 vote as absentee, military and provisional ballots were counted. Republican officials took initial steps to prepare for a possible recount.

The victory by a Democrat in an area that Trump won by almost 20 points in 2016 is an ominous sign for Republicans looking ahead to elections in November that will decide control of Congress. It is the second time since December that a GOP candidate with the full backing of the president has lost a special election in a heavily Republican area, foreshadowing a potential Democratic surge that may flip control of the House.

Retirements and Low Ratings

The November election will be held amid a slew of retirements by Republicans in closely divided districts, Trump’s historically low approval ratings and polls showing voters favoring Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans. The GOP also is bucking historical trends. Before Tuesday’s election, Democrats needed a net gain of 24 seats, and the party holding the White House has averaged a net loss of 26 in midterm elections since the end of World War II.

Saccone leaned heavily on Trump and promised he’d help the president carry out his agenda. The president, Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. all appeared on Saccone’s behalf. National conservative and GOP groups also stepped in to assist Saccone, spending more than $10 million on the race, much of it on TV ads bashing Lamb.

But Saccone, 60, didn’t capture the ardent support that Trump himself generates. He significantly trailed Lamb in fundraising. Unions, some of which had backed the Republican who previously held the seat, put their money and organizations behind Lamb.

Lamb by contrast distanced himself from national Democrats, saying he wouldn’t support Representative Nancy Pelosi of California as the party’s leader in the House. The Marine veteran backs expanded background checks for gun buyers but opposes major new limits on firearms ownership. He’s also largely avoided talking about Trump.

His mix of positions that weren’t always aligned with the national Democratic Party made it hard for the GOP to cast Lamb as a liberal who was out of step with voters in the district. That and a focus on local issues was largely the same formula Democrat Doug Jones used to win a special election for the Senate in heavily Republican Alabama.

Democrats hadn’t even run a candidate for the House seat in the last two elections. The Republican who represented the district since the 2002 election, Tim Murphy, resigned last October amid a personal scandal.

The election will be the last in the district as it currently stands a result of a redrawing of the Pennsylvania political map ordered by the state supreme court. Lamb will run for the state’s newly drawn 17th district in November, while Saccone will run in the 14th district.

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