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Conor Lamb claims victory over Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania congressional election

Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone were locked in race that was too close to call for a House seat in Pennsylvania that may be a bellwether for the fall elections even as Lamb claimed victory.

With absentee votes still being tallied from Tuesday’s special election in southwestern Pennsylvania, Lamb clung to a lead of 579 votes out of more than 228,000 cast.

Some absentee ballots from the four counties in the district had yet to be counted, and those tallies may not be completed until later Wednesday morning. NBC News called the race for Lamb early Wednesday.

Lamb claimed victory Wednesday morning in a CNN interview, while conceding it’s “possible” the absentee ballots could swing the race. He said he doesn’t expect Saccone to concede before results are finalized.

“We feel confident based on the way we ran this and our efforts to get absentee ballots to people who needed them,” Lamb said.

That the race was competitive at all was a bad sign for Republicans as the party is seeking to keep control of Congress in November elections. The seat had been in Republican hands for 15 years and Democrats didn’t contest it in the last two congressional elections. President Donald Trump won the district by 20 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

“We seem to have reached lot of people, and we saw huge turnout yesterday on both sides ” which is great,” Lamb told CNN, calling himself a “Pennsylvania Democrat.”

Trump campaigned for Saccone on Saturday night in the heart of the district, which stretches from the suburbs of Pittsburgh to the border with West Virginia. During the rally, Trump laid out the stakes in Tuesday’s vote.

“I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick, but the world is watching, because I won this district,” Trump said.

Saccone addressed supporters late Tuesday at his campaign headquarters in McKeesport, to thank them and to promise he is “not giving up.”

“We’re going to fight all the way to the end,” he said.

Both parties are preparing for November elections that will be held amid several retirements by Republicans in closely divided districts, Trump’s historically low approval ratings and polls showing voters favoring Democratic congressional candidates over Republicans. The GOP also is bucking historical trends. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats, and the party holding the White House has averaged a net loss of 26 in midterm elections since the end of World War II.

Republican Rick Saccone, center, is surrounded ...

Keith Srakocic, The Associated Press

Republican Rick Saccone, center, is surrounded by cameras and reporters as he heads to the polling place to cast his ballot, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in McKeesport, Pa. Saccone is running against Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election being held for the PA 18th Congressional District vacated by Republican Tim Murphy.

Saccone, 60, leaned heavily on Trump and promised he’d help the president carry out his agenda. The president, Vice President Mike Pence and president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., all appeared on Saccone’s behalf.

Lamb by contrast distanced himself from national Democrats, saying he wouldn’t support Representative Nancy Pelosi of California as the party’s leader in the House. The 33-year-old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor backs expanded background checks for gun buyers but opposes major new limits on firearms ownership. He’s also largely avoided talking about Trump.

Lamb matched or outpaced Hillary Clinton’s performance in the 2016 presidential election across the district, including the vote-rich Pittsburgh suburbs of Allegheny County, where he was getting 57 percent of the vote.

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