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Republicans downplay Pennsylvania race, but note tough road ahead

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Republicans largely downplayed Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania, where a Democrat is poised to win in a solidly GOP district. But they acknowledged it's another reminder of the tough midterm election cycle ahead.

The race in Pennsylvania's 18th District had still not been called late Wednesday morning. Democrat Conor Lamb currently leads GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone by 627 votes in a district President Donald Trump carried by 20 points in 2016. Republicans were bracing for a loss in the final days of the race and were already placing blame on Saccone's lackluster fundraising.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers addressed GOP lawmakers in their regularly scheduled conference meeting Wednesday morning and discussed the election, saying Republicans needed to make sure they were ready for a fight.

"He said it's a bit of a wakeup call," Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said when asked about Ryan's message. "I think you can't deny that and if you do you're lying ... He made the point that I just made that you can't be outspent five to one by your opponent."

According to a source familiar with the message sent to Republicans at the meeting, leaders also encouraged lawmakers to be sure to define themselves, arguing Saccone's experience as an Air Force veteran has worked in counter-terrorism but voters weren't aware of that.

Leaders also cautioned that Lamb's candidacy would be difficult to replicate, something a number of Republicans echoed after the meeting. Lamb was chosen by party delegates at a convention and not in a traditional primary, which can push candidates to party extremes.


"Same as always," GOP Rep. Rodney Davis said when asked about the NRCC's message to leaders. "Raise more money."

The Illinois Republican is one of being targeted by Democrats in 2018, and Trump carried his district by 6 points in 2017. Davis said he was always gearing up for a competitive race, regardless of what happened in Pennsylvania.

"We're always going to be prepared," Davis said. "That's the life of living in a district that's a competitive district."

Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., said Tuesday night's outcome doesn't worry her. "I'm going to be fine," she said.


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