Pollster: Pennsylvania Special Election May Be Bellwether For 2018 Midterms

March 12, 2018 - 6:05 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Voters in western Pennsylvania will go to the polls Tuesday for a special election that could be a preview of the 2018 midterms.

The winner of the special election for the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania will fill an open seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned in October.

Monmouth University conducted a poll on the race, and found that Democrat Conor Lamb is leading against his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, 51 percent to 45 percent. Polling director Patrick Murray explained to WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace that Lamb is ahead even though the district swings strongly Republican.

“We found that this is a heavy Republican district. Donald Trump won it by nearly 20 points. But the Democrat, Conor Lamb, has been surging really well in this district. He was behind by a few points when we polled it a month ago,” Murray said.

Murray explained that the pol is based on a “surge model,” in which voter turnout reflects a Democratic surge seen in other recent special elections. But Murray said Lamb still polls slightly ahead even with a traditional midterm election model forecasting low voter turnout.

Murray said Lamb’s own appeal as a candidate in the blue-collar district is helping him.

"Conor Lamb is one of those old-fashioned blue collar Democrats that appeals really well to this district – where there used to be a lot of Democratic voters. In fact, there are a lot of Democratic registrants there in that district, and he’s kind of reminding them of the Democrat that they used to vote for, and so, he’s got a 53 percent favorable rating,” Murray said. “Rick Saccone, the Republican, only has a 47 percent rating, so a much lower rating there.”

Meanwhile, the tariffs recently imposed by President Donald Trump – 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum – did not have a strong effect on the choices of those polled.

“We find nearly as many people there say that it’ll hurt that economy versus help the economy in that area. And 96 percent say it doesn’t really matter to them one way or the other in terms of how they’re going to vote for this particular race,” Murray said. “So I don’t think that effect, if Donald Trump put those tariffs out there in order to help Rick Saccone in this race, it’s not having that kind of impact.”

Murray said even if Lamb loses, the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District race could still be a bellwether for the midterm elections.

“Even if Conor Lamb loses this race, but if he loses by a close number – maybe a couple of points – that still represents a huge swing from Republican to Democratic vote in that district. So that was a 20-point Republican district,” Murray said. “What about other districts that are seven- or eight-point Republican where the incumbent has been safe? Those would suggest that those are going to be prime for Democrats to pick up in November.”