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More trouble for Trump's candidate in Pennsylvania special election

Evan Halper, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Republicans desperate to hold onto a congressional seat in the heart of Trump country received more bad news Monday, just days after the president parachuted into western Pennsylvania to give their struggling candidate a boost.

Republican Rick Saccone, according to a new Monmouth University poll, is still losing ground in Tuesday's election to fill a vacant seat in the district near Pittsburgh that Trump won by 20 points. Some $8 million in spending by national Republican groups aimed at propping up the state lawmaker hasn't seemed to give him the boost he badly needs to take a lead against his political-neophyte opponent, Conor Lamb.

The poll found Lamb leading 51 percent to 45 percent if turnout reflects the patterns of other similar special elections held this year, in which there was a Democratic surge. Even if turnout is lackluster, as it tends to be for a routine special election, the poll still shows Lamb winning by two points.

Saccone should be winning handily in the district, given its solidly Republican performance in recent elections, but he has struggled, steadily losing ground to Lamb despite the huge infusion of GOP money into the race.

The Monmouth survey was mostly completed before Trump arrived in western Pennsylvania on Saturday night and does not reflect any boost Saccone may have received from that campaign rally. But it does show other moves by Trump have done little to help the Republican candidate.

Only 3 percent of voters in this region pummeled by the decline of the steel industry said Trump's decision to impose tariffs on imported steel has moved them to support Saccone. While 43 percent of voters in the district say the tariffs will help the region, just as many say they will hurt it economically or have no impact.

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"It doesn't seem the president's gambit paid off in this case if that was his intent," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

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