1 of 3 | President Donald Trump applauds Rick Saccone, Republican candidate for the 18th Congressional District, following his speech at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township near Pittsburgh on Saturday. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
MOON TOWNSHIP, PENN. - President Donald Trump touted steel tariffs and his upcoming talks with North Korea as he urged western Pennsylvania Republicans to vote for Rick Saccone in a Saturday night campaign rally leading up to a tight special election against Democrat Conor Lamb on Tuesday.
"Do me a favor -- get out on Tuesday, vote for Rick Saccone, and we can leave right now," Trump said. "We need our congressman Saccone. We have to have him."
The race has become an unlikely battleground in a district the president won by over 19 percentage points in 2016. The Cook Political Report downgraded it "Toss Up" on Feb. 28, and recent polls have the pair in a statistical dead heat.
Saccone has underwhelmed national Republicans, particularly with fundraising. According to Saccone's March filing with the Federal Election Commission, he raised $703,000 in the first half of 2018. In contrast, Lamb raised more than $3.3 million dollars. The deficit has forced the National Republican Congressional Committee and other conservative political groups to pour millions of dollars into the race.
Casting himself as a Democrat independent from the national party, Lamb has pledged not to vote for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as speaker if the Democrats take the house. He's also backed several of Trump's policies, including the president's recent steel tariffs. Trump said Lamb will still back the Democratic agenda in Congress.
"And Conor Lamb - Lamb the Sham - he's trying to act like a Republican," Trump said. "As soon as he gets in, he's not going to vote for us. He's going to vote the party line."
Supported by both candidates, Trump's tariffs impose a 25 percent tax on imported steel and aluminum, with exemptions for Mexico and Canada. Signed into law last Thursday, they're expected to take effect within 15 days and face stiff opposition from congressional Republicans.
"We're saving the steel, and a lot of steel mills are now opening up because of what I did," Trump said. "Steel is back, and aluminum is back."
Trump also praised the economy, citing the Friday jobs report as evidence of the success of the Republican tax plan.
"You saw yesterday's numbers - yesterday's job reports were among the best number produced in the history of our country," he said. "It was one of the best reports, and you know the amazing thing? Wages went up a little bit."
In remarks before Trump arrived, Saccone praised the GOP tax plan and the coal industry. He also touted five points of his experience - education, diplomacy, the military, international business and government - that he said will help Trump advance his agenda in Washington.
"Southwestern Pennsylvania doesn't need another downtown Pittsburgh liberal in congress," Saccone said. "I'm battle-tested and ready to serve."
The special election is the last election held under Pennsylvania's old congressional map. Following a suit from the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters, the state Supreme Court struck down the old district map as a partisan gerrymandering. When the Republican-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf could not agree on a replacement, the court drew its own. The new map offers several pickup opportunities for the Democrats, who currently hold five of the state's 18 house seats.
However, the new map still faces legal challenges from the Pennsylvania GOP - a panel of three federal judges heard arguments for and against striking it down Friday. Trump also attacked the new map, calling it "very unfair."
"They had state judges that are Democrats change your voting districts - what kind of stuff is that?" Trump said. "It's litigation, it's in court, let's see what happens."
Saccone said that with Trump's support, he expects to win this this Tuesday.
"If President Trump's in your corner, how can you lose?" Saccone said. "This is the time to close the deal - we've got two days left."