The Note: A clarifying moment for Trump in Pennsylvania

Welcome back to the political season.

March 12, 2018, 5:39 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Welcome back to the political season. If it seemed like it never left us – well, that’s because it didn’t.

President Donald Trump is thrusting himself back into the campaign narrative, with a 2020 slogan – “Keep America Great, exclamation point” – and with his midterm involvement marked by the kind of nicknames, insults and partial truths we’ve almost come to expect.

Tomorrow’s special election in a deep-red Pennsylvania House will mark a clarifying moment in the midst of considerable White House chaos. As Trump’s presidency teeters between breakdowns and breakthroughs, a slice of Trump country gets its say in a race Trump knows will be a statement on his presidency.

“This guy should win easily,” Trump said Saturday of Rick Saccone, the GOP candidate in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

He isn’t wrong about that. While national Republicans have been talking up their own candidate’s flaws, bracing for an embarrassing defeat, Trump publicly declared himself a Saccone fan: “I think he is handsome.”

The problem for Trump won’t be how Saccone looks – but how Saccone’s race makes Trump look.

PHOTO: A volunteer places campaign signs for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone outside the VFW Post 4793, March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pa. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb.
A volunteer places campaign signs for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone outside the VFW Post 4793, March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pa. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

Over the weekend, the DNC moved forward in the process of reforming the party. While one of the catchiest changes on the table deals with cutting the number and power of super delegates, other parts of the plan could have even bigger ramifications for the party's primaries.

Two recommended reforms working their way through the party's committees are controversial but have the potential to drastically increase voter participation in the process of selecting Democratic candidates. First, the document dealing with new best practices says the party will be committed to "expanding the use of primaries" and "working to achieve same-day registration and same-day party switching."

The latter especially could be key to allowing young people and independents, who are hesitant to lock in party preference, feel included and able to participate. Some Democrats worry about the precedent of giving folks a say who have not joined the ranks officially, but others look at data like in Pennsylvania' 18th and know the only chance the Democrat has to win is if he successfully expands and grows the Democratic base. And one of the ways to do that may be to let people who are not party faithful show up just on game days.

The TIP with Adam Kelsey

Less than an hour after President Trump wrapped up his 75-minute-long, free-wheeling campaign event Saturday night — one complete with his usual attacks on all who oppose his agenda and, of course, the media — an unlikely figure joined in criticizing some of the president's favorite punching bags.

Democratic 18th Congressional District candidate Conor Lamb, Rick Saccone's opponent, took to Twitter to share his dismay with the attention cable networks gave the event, ostensibly organized to support the Republican.

Announcing a get-out-the-vote rally with union members in rural Greene County Saturday, Lamb quipped: "Assume it will air live on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc."

Lamb is far from the first Democrat to lament what's viewed as a media fixation with Trump, but the candidate's complaint is notable given his efforts to fly under the national radar and focus on a local campaign in the run-up to Tuesday's vote.

Most notably, in early February, Lamb was joined by Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., for an event with local supporters at a campaign office, just days after Kennedy delivered the Democratic response to the State of the Union. Not only was the event not announced to the media, but one day prior, a Lamb campaign official told ABC News there was nothing on the schedule for the day Kennedy swung through.

The 33-year-old former assistant U.S. attorney isn't your typical Democrat. His digital eye-roll toward the cable networks comes as he's supported Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, balked on calling for stricter gun control measures and discussed his personal pro-life stance on abortion.

Those right-leaning views are part of the reason Lamb has been able to tighten the 18th District race after it voted for Trump by a nearly 20-point margin in 2016. Even the president, who watched his Saturday crowd chant "CNN sucks" and openly debated which network he disliked most, acknowledged the candidate's strengths at the rally.

"I might like him," he said, before acknowledging why he was there. "And then [Saccone] is going to be very angry at me."

PHOTO:Conor Lamb talks with supporters at a rally, March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning, March 5, 2018, in Waynesburg, Penn.
Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb talks with supporters at a rally, March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning, March 5, 2018, in Waynesburg, Pa.


  • ABC's Jordyn Phelps reports: Trump has called for bold action to improve school safety in the wake of last month’s Parkland shooting, but proposals the White House is set to formally endorse today — with little fanfare — don't go beyond expressing support for legislation the White House is already on the record supporting, while relegating any future action to states' discretion and a new federal commission. Trump has previously appeared to advocate everything from arming teachers to universal background checks on all gun purchases to raising the minimum age of purchase on rifles. So why isn’t the president going further on background checks? A senior administration official said it’s all about supporting legislation that can pass now.
  • We The People For Sensible Gun Laws holds a demonstration in front of the White House to demand sweeping gun control legislation at 11 a.m.
  • President Trump hosts the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros at 12:15 p.m.
  • President Trump has lunch with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry at 1 p.m.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continues his tour of Africa with stops in Chad and Nigeria today.
  • The Department of Labor releases its state employment and unemployment summary for January 2018.

    “Not that I'm aware of.” — Deputy press secretary Raj Shah when asked on “This Week” whether President Trump approved the payment his personal lawyer made to Stormy Daniels.


    Trump 'intends to' meet with special counsel under oath: White House spokesman. Trump spokesperson Raj Shah said Trump has told him twice that he plans to meet with the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation and will answer questions under oath. (Quinn Scanlan)

    Analysis: The math behind Democrats' quest to win Pennsylvania special election. For the past five months, Democrats and Republicans alike have been pouring money into the next special election that takes place Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district. (MaryAlice Parks)

    Trump stumps for House candidate Rick Saccone, jumpstarts 2020 election. Days before a special election that is being touted symbolically as the first midterm of 2018, President Donald Trump came to Pittsburgh to pledge support for GOP candidate Rick Saccone and tease out his 2020 re-election ambitions. (Erin Dooley, Adam Kelsey and M.L. Nestel)

    Trump can't approach Kim Jong Un meeting 'like a reality show': Former Obama aide. The former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama said Sunday that he has spoken to his former boss about the potential meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, and Obama is rooting for the meeting’s success. (Quinn Scanlan and Allison Pecorin)

    North Korea has to make good on 'promises' before meeting with Trump: White House. A White House spokesperson said Sunday that North Korea must uphold three “promises” for the meeting between its leader and President Donald Trump to actually take place. (Quinn Scanlan and Allison Pecorin)

    Democratic grassroots strength to face test in 2018 midterms. The Indivisible grassroots movement sprang from Trump’s election and has spawned thousands of groups across the country. (Emily Goodin)

    Campaigns cry foul in national Democrats' interference in key House races. Campaign tactics by Democratic officials to ensure the party retakes control of the House this fall have sparked complaints from some candidates about the interference and led to growing concerns the heavy-handed moves could backfire. (Emily Goodin and Esther Castillejo)

    President Trump to embark on 1st trip to Latin America. Trump is set to travel to Peru and Colombia on a tour that will include a multi-country summit, bilateral meetings and cultural events, according to the White House. (Jordyn Phelps)

    FiveThirtyEight analyzes President Trump's recent moves on North Korea and tariffs and what they say about his impulses.

    The New York Times reports on the man likely to succeed President Trump's departing economic adviser Gary D. Cohn - Christopher Liddell.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.