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Poll: Republican holds slim lead in closely watched House special election

The Hill logo The Hill 2/15/2018 Ben Kamisar

Pennsylvania Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone has a slim lead over Democrat Conor Lamb in a new poll of next month's special election in the deep-red House district.

Saccone leads Lamb 49 percent to 46 percent, according to polling released Thursday by Monmouth University.

The Republican's lead grows slightly depending on turnout, which can be difficult to predict in a special election. But the slim margin is further proof that Lamb is within spitting distance in a district President Trump won by 20 points.

"Saccone has a slight edge, but it's nowhere near the double digit advantage Republicans typically enjoy in this district. The potential for a Democratic surge like we have seen in other special elections helps Lamb stay in the hunt but it does not close the gap entirely," said Patrick Murray, the Monmouth University Polling Institute's director.

Democrats appear far more interested in the special election to replace Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), who resigned after reports he urged a mistress to get an abortion. Almost 50 percent of Democratic voters in the district told pollsters they are following the special election, while just 26 percent of Republicans felt the same way.

That data have the party hoping that Democratic turnout dwarfs Republican's during the March 13 election, handing Democrats an upset ahead of the November midterms.

Lamb's strength in the deep-red district is another sign that Democratic enthusiasm is boding well for the party in Republican-leaning special elections. But while that trend has helped Democrats flip more than 35 state legislature seats since Trump's election, Republicans at the congressional level have successfully kept Democrats at bay - outside of the Alabama special Senate election, where the GOP candidate was roiled with accusations of child molestation.

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Republicans have spent millions on television ads blasting Lamb as a typical Democrat, as well as a ground game to help boost Saccone. The White House has also deployed resources to the district - Vice President Pence rallied for Saccone earlier this month, while Trump plans to return for a campaign rally next week after traveling to the district for an official event last month.

That support has been helpful for Saccone, who has been outraised by Lamb.

Democrats on the other hand have eyed the district cautiously, looking to walk a fine line between helping their candidate close the gap while allowing him to keep national Democrats at an arms length. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee went up with ads in the district last month but has not committed to any additional investment.

While Trump won the district by 20 points, voters are mixed on his tenure in office. His approval rating there is 51 percent, just 4 points above his disapproval rating, and voters are similarly split as to whether they approve of his handling of the issues.

The candidates have similar favorability ratings, with Saccone's unfavorable score 8 points higher than Lamb's.

Monmouth's poll, which ran from Feb. 12 to Feb. 14, spoke to 320 likely voters and has a margin of error of 5.5 percentage points.

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