A nail-biting special election in Pennsylvania, widely viewed as a prelude to this fall's midterm races, is still too close to call Wednesday, with the Democrat who hoped to flip a solidly red congressional district clinging to a lead of just over 600 votes.
Democrat Conor Lamb took an early lead Tuesday evening over Republican Rick Saccone in the race for the state's 18th Congressional District, but that advantage evaporated until both candidates were virtually neck and neck.
Lamb currently leads by 627 votes, after the state counted absentee ballots Wednesday. But the state has not yet declared official results, and the margin could change when provisional and any other outstanding ballots are factored in. Saccone has not yet conceded the race, and could push for a recount.
Lamb declared victory shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday, taking the stage at his election night party after being introduced as "congressman-elect."
"It took a little longer than we thought. But we did it," he said in remarks to supporters. "Our issue in this campaign is common ground. We fought to find common ground and we found it, almost everywhere. Democrats, Republicans, independents, all of us Americans."
Still, despite Lamb's preemptive declaration of victory, the tight race raised the prospect of a recount. Pennsylvania does not require an automatic recount for non-statewide races, though it is possible to request one. It is not yet clear if either candidate would push for that option, though in brief comments at his campaign headquarters Tuesday night Saccone told his followers that "we’re not giving up."
"We’re going to keep fighting," he said to cheers from the crowd. "Don't give up, and we'll keep it up! We are going to win it! God bless you all!"
Lamb, an attorney and former Marine, and Saccone, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, were competing in a special election for the congressional seat vacated in October when Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican, resigned amid a sex scandal.
The district lies in the state's southwest corner had been considered solidly red — President Trump won the district in 2016 by 19 points — though some sections are less reliably Republican. Though Democrats were hoping to flip the district, Lamb's showing in a conservative area still offered a positive sign for those hoping for a wave of blue victories in upcoming congressional elections.
During the race, Lamb leaned into the district's blue-collar demographics, saying he wouldn't support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and campaigning as a supporter of unions and the Second Amendment. The strategy appeared to be working in recent days, with a poll on Monday showing Lamb with a seven-point lead.
Saccone campaigned on a platform of Republican staples such as low taxes and overhauling health care. Trump also stumped for Saccone, visiting Pennsylvania in both January and March, as well as sending his son Donald Trump Jr. to support Saccone's campaign.
Saccone has played up his similarities to the president, touting that he ran for state office in 2010 on the same agenda Trump eventually rode to the White House.
“I was Trump before Trump was Trump,” Saccone said last November.
Whoever ends up winning the special election won't hold the office for long. After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state's congressional districts, Lamb and Saccone will reside in different districts, meaning both men could run again in November against different candidates. The filing deadline for that election is next week.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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