Dems don't plan to put more money into heated Pa. race

Dems don't plan to put more money into heated Pa. race
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National Democrats aren’t committing to pour additional resources into a closely watched Pennsylvania special election, even though the latest poll shows the party within striking distance.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent a little over $300,000 to boost Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. But since then, the House Democrats’ campaign arm has remained on the sidelines while Republican groups continue their barrage of attack ads. 

Republican groups have spent close to $5 million in an effort to boost state Rep. Rick Saccone (R), who was outraised 2-to-1 by Lamb in the last few months of 2017, in the red district. 

DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) told reporters that the committee is keeping close tabs on the March 13 race, but argued that Lamb has enough resources to compete against ads from GOP super PACs and the House GOP’s campaign arm.

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“When you saw us lean in a little bit, it’s because we saw a little bit of support that was needed there and then Conor quickly was able to respond. ... and he’s back in a commanding place,” Luján told reporters this week at the national party's headquarters in Washington.

“We’ll continue to monitor that election day by day. But make no mistake, Conor will have the resources he needs to compete.”

Television stations are required to give individual candidates lower advertising rates than outside groups, meaning Lamb’s campaign dollars go further on air than the same amount spent by a GOP outside group would. Lamb’s campaign has bought ad time already, while Saccone’s campaign has yet to launch a TV ad of its own.

“It’s why Conor Lamb, raising the resources that he has been ... has been able to keep up with this onslaught of Republican attacks,” Luján said.

“I think the strength of Conor Lamb’s campaign has Republicans worried. Otherwise Republicans would not be spending millions and millions of dollars in a race that Donald Trump won by 19 points.” 

Top Democrats have been criticized in the past for a reluctance to spend money in other special elections. While the DCCC focused heavily on boosting Democrat Jon Ossoff in the nationally watched race in Georgia, candidates running in special elections in Kansas and Montana got less financial help.

Progressives argued that Democrats need to play more aggressively in all parts of the country, even in deep-red seats. 

But some Democrats believe it’s best to let a candidate in a Republican-leaning district run an independent campaign that keeps some distance from Washington, given many Americans’ negative opinion of the nation’s capital and national political figures. 

For Pennsylvania’s 18th district, some strategists believe that Lamb can stand on his own without additional help from national Democrats. Distance from the national party could even prove beneficial, since Republicans are eager to tie him to House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE Pelosi: 'The Russians have something on the president' Schumer: Does Putin have 'damaging information' on Trump? MORE (D-Calif.), despite Lamb’s commitment to vote against a Pelosi leadership bid if elected.

“Help from the national party is a double-edged sword,” said Mark Nevins, a Democratic strategist in Philadelphia. “It’s helpful to have additional resources. But on the other hand, it comes with all of the baggage that national parties carry with them." 

“[The DCCC] has done a good job of balancing the benefits of spending on behalf of Lamb with the costs — not only to them, but to Lamb.”

GOP groups are turning up the heat on Lamb to prevent a Democratic upset in a district that President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE won by nearly 20 points in the 2016 election.

Republicans acknowledge that the race has tightened more than they hoped, but still feel confident that they can keep their grip on the seat vacated by ex-Rep. Tim MurphyTim MurphyJordan weathering political storm, but headwinds remain Saccone loses GOP primary comeback bid in Pa. Nearly half of voters hope for Dems to win majority in 2018: poll MORE (R), an anti-abortion rights congressman who resigned after reports he urged a mistress to get an abortion. Murphy had won all of his reelection races by large double-digit margins. 

Groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with GOP leaders, made early investments in field offices. And Republicans believe tying Lamb to Pelosi will hinder his candidacy.

While Democrats still have some ground to make up, a Thursday poll from Monmouth University showed some promising news for Democrats. That survey found Saccone leading Lamb by a slim 3-point lead, 49 to 46 percent.

The poll also found that Democrats appear more enthusiastic about the special election, a significant statistic in a race where turnout will likely be critical. Nearly 50 percent of Democratic voters told pollsters they are following the race, while just 26 percent of Republicans felt the same way.

“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, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. 

As a result of the polling gap closing, the tenor of this race has changed as both sides escalate their attacks.

Lamb, who’s new on the political scene, used his first campaign ad to spotlight his biography as an introduction to voters.

But now Lamb has gone on offense and knocked Saccone in an ad, highlighting Saccone’s use of $400,000 in taxpayer-funded personal expenses while a member of the state legislature.

Lamb has also responded to GOP attacks about his criticism of the Republican tax overhaul. In a recent ad, he defended his position by arguing that he supports middle-class tax cuts, but believes the GOP’s plan disproportionately helps the nation’s highest earners. 

Republicans are feeling more emboldened that the tax plan’s growing popularity will buoy them in the upcoming midterm elections.

Along with ads on Pelosi and tax reform, Republicans have also turned up the heat over Lamb’s past. The National Republican Congressional Committee ran a spot that criticized Lamb’s record during his time as a federal prosecutor. 

The biggest question mark is when Trump will make an appearance in the district.

Trump had planned a campaign rally right outside the 18th district next week. Politico reported that he had also planned to hold a fundraiser for Saccone.

But Trump postponed the rally following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and it's unclear when he will reschedule it.

Republicans still hope that Trump makes a trip ahead of the special election, since Trump remains relatively popular in the district. But some in the party worry that he won't mobilize enough voters to go to the polls in what’s expected to be a low turnout election.

“I think the one fear among some of the operatives I’ve talked to is that he gins up folks that are not going to vote in that special election,” said Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania GOP strategist. “That his star power is so wide that it’s not penetrating down to the relatively few number of people who are going to get out to the polls on March 13.”