CANONSBURG, Pa. (Reuters) – An election in Pennsylvania for a U.S. House of Representatives seat, seen as a bellwether of national sentiment, was a dead heat on Tuesday with a moderate Democrat and a Republican backed by President Donald Trump running neck and neck.
With the votes from 97 percent of precincts counted, Democrat Conor Lamb led Republican Rick Saccone by just around half of a percentage point in the special election.
The district has long been a white, working-class Republican stronghold. Trump won the 2016 presidential election here by almost 20 percentage points.
But Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran, has surged in polls in recent weeks as Democrat voters sensed a chance to show their opposition to Trump.
The race is also seen as a harbinger for midterm elections in November when Democrats will try to win control of the U.S. Congress from Republicans.
Saccone, 60, a conservative who has described himself as “Trump before Trump was Trump,” led the race by more than 10 percentage points in January.
Republican dominance has been so strong in the district that Democrats ran no candidates in the previous two U.S. House elections, even though state voter registration records show Democrats outnumbering Republicans.
The White House has arranged a string of visits to energize Saccone supporters. Trump himself visited twice including holding a campaign rally last weekend and on Tuesday he again voiced backing for the Republican.
“The Economy is raging, at an all time high, and is set to get even better. Jobs and wages up. Vote for Rick Saccone and keep it going!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
Republicans have found it harder than expected to mount effective attacks on Lamb’s positions on abortion, guns and the national Democratic Party.
He has eschewed the national Democrat brand, saying he would not support House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi as speaker.
Lamb says he personally opposes abortion but accepts the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade landmark decision allowing abortion as the law of the land. He favors enforcing existing gun laws and improving the current system of background checks over setting new gun restrictions.
Larry Gdovic, 61, a state government employee from Elizabeth Township, voted for Lamb. “He’s a young new guy with a lot of good fresh ideas. I don’t believe he’s a total Democrat,” Gdovic said.
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney; Editing by Michael Perry