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Republican wins special House election in Pennsylvania

The Hill logo The Hill 22/05/2019 Max Greenwood
a person wearing a suit and tie: Republican wins special House election in Pennsylvania © The Hill Republican wins special House election in Pennsylvania

Fred Keller, a Republican state representative, beat Democrat Marc Friedenberg in the race to represent Pennsylvania's 12th District on Tuesday.

Keller's victory means that the north-central Pennsylvania district will remain in Republican hands after former Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) stepped down in January, less than one month into his fifth term in office.

The 12th District still tilts heavily in the GOP's favor, unlike several districts in Pennsylvania that became more competitive for Democrats after the state Supreme Court ordered the state's congressional lines to be redrawn.

President Trump would have carried the district by 36 points in 2016 had the state's current congressional boundaries been in place that year, and Keller outspent Friedenberg by more than $140,000, according to federal filings.

Keller also got a last-minute boost on Monday when Trump held a rally in Montoursville, inside the 12th district, to campaign with the GOP hopeful.

Speaking to supporters there, Trump declared that the special election was tantamount to a "referendum" on his presidency.

"Get out tomorrow," Trump urged supporters. "It's a little bit of a referendum."

Friedenberg, an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, ran against Marino for the seat in 2018. He lost that election by more than 30 points.

While the national parties have largely stayed out of the 12th District special election, Keller's campaign tested some of the messaging that Republicans are hoping to use in 2020 as they look to retake control of the House and maintain their hold on the Senate.

On the campaign trail, the GOP state representative accused Friedenberg of championing socialism in the same vein as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), while deriding liberal proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

For his part, Friedenberg backs those proposals, but rarely discussed them in his campaign, focusing instead on a more poll-tested message that includes issues like health care and infrastructure.

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