The Note: Special Edition: What’s at stake in Pennsylvania’s special election

It will be up to a deep-red House district today to provide a blueprint.

It will be up to a deep-red House district today to provide a blueprint – or deliver yet more Democratic blues.

But before anyone heralds a herd of Conor Lambs, where else could a Democrat come close to a seat in Congress while opposing new gun laws, stating his belief that “life begins at conception,” supporting fracking and President Donald Trump’s new tariffs, and vowing never to support Nancy Pelosi in a bid for House Speaker?

Democrats are benefiting from some fortuitous casting with the 33-year-old, telegenic Marine reservist who is running in the special election in southwestern Pennsylvania. (Given state Democratic rules around this special, Lamb was nominated without having to navigate a primary.)

Tens of millions are being spent by both sides for a nine-month rental of a congressional district that won’t even exist next year. It’s a test run for messaging around the GOP tax plan and Pelosi-themed attacks, plus a big test of Trump’s seemingly-clipped coattails.

A Democratic win would be remarkable in district Trump carried by nearly 20 points. But it would also be remarkable for a Democrat to win while sounding and acting so unlike the national Democratic lineup he hopes to join.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

Analysts and activists alike point to special elections as a barometer of voters’ moods at a given moment and a predictor of what’s to come in the midterm elections. But with oversized spending and typically underwhelming turnout in these one-off races, it is easy to draw unfair assumptions from a single night’s results.

The fact is anything could happen by November and no two districts are created equal. Instead of looking broadly at the results, campaign operatives worth their weight will dissect the numbers from tonight and try to glean insights into who exactly voted, for whom and why.

For instance, how many more (if any) self-identified Democrats did Conor Lamb bring out? How many first-time voters were there? Who did best with those powerful voters with ties to organized labor? Did Lamb pick up more suburban “Romney-Clinton” independents or more, typically rural, “Obama-Trump” ones?

While Democrats have enjoyed double-digital swings in other elections in the last year, for Lamb to pull this off he would need to not only increase the solid Democrat vote in the district, but especially break even with his Republican opponent Rick Saccone with every other type of moderate or independent voter.

The TIP with Adam Kelsey

It was a tale of two very different campaigns in the final day before voting in Pennsylvania's 18th district. In one corner Monday, Republican Rick Saccone welcomed yet another national figure as he sought to brush off grumbles of party discord with his candidacy and maintain a positive outlook. In the other, the calm, cool and collected camp of Democrat Conor Lamb continued to chug away with grassroots volunteers calling and canvassing into the evening.

Introducing Donald Trump Jr. in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania – their second event together after the pair (and at least two ABC News reporters) sported hairnets for a behind-the-scenes tour of Sarris Candies in Canonsburg – Saccone led with his usual stump speech question to the audience, asking if the district was still "Trump country."

Despite a hearty round of cheers inside the Blaine Hill Volunteer Fire Company building, the latest polling suggests the 18th may not be Saccone country, setting up Tuesday's election as a massive opportunity for Democrats to prove that they can compete anywhere.

Though his opponent has embraced both the president and at least two of his offspring in visits over the past month, Lamb continues to maintain a local focus and has refused to focus attacks on the occupant of the Oval Office. But that doesn't mean his supporters feel the same way.

"We’re not supposed to say this — I hate Trump. And any way we can get back at Trump, I’m for it," said one volunteer arriving at Lamb's Carnegie office Monday night, who went on to explain his initial reticence. "Conor Lamb is trying to run a positive campaign. His focus is on Saccone, not Trump."

But according to Saccone, the president isn't the only thing Lamb supporters hate. In Elizabeth, he took direct aim at his opposition in, perhaps, the most hostile rhetoric seen through this special election campaign.

"Many of them have a hatred for our country," the Republican claimed. "I'll tell you some more. My wife and I saw it again today. They have a hatred for God."


  • WATCH LIVE TONIGHT: You can watch livestreaming coverage of Pennsylvania’s special election as part of ABC News’ “18 for 18” coverage of the midterm elections starting at 8 p.m. ET on or on the ABC News app available on the Apple App Store, GooglePlay Store, Apple TV App Store, and Roku Channel Store. Don’t forget to sign up for Midterm Elections Alerts to get more coverage of this year’s election season as par from our powerhouse politics team.
  • Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Pennsylvania's special election today.
  • President Donald Trump heads to California this morning for his first trip to the state since becoming president.
  • Trump arrives in San Diego at 2:30 p.m. ET to view several border-wall prototypes and later deliver remarks at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
  • Trump attends a Republican fundraiser in Beverly Hills in the evening.

    "I'm a walking poll – my wife and I meet thousands of people a day." – Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone Monday when asked about recent unfavorable polling results.


    5 things to watch in the Pennsylvania special election. National attention on the race has reached a fever pitch over the past couple weeks, with both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden swinging through the district in the past week to campaign. (Adam Kelsey, John Verhovek and Emily Goodin)

    Meet Rick Saccone, Pennsylvania GOP candidate hoping to stem a rising blue tide. High profile Republicans — including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — have rallied around State Rep. Rick Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran, to help shore up his bid to win the House seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District special election. (Kendall Karson and Adam Kelsey)

    Meet Conor Lamb, the Democrat looking to nab a seat in Trump country. Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old Democrat Marine Corps captain has mounted a surprisingly competitive bid deep in Trump country as he seeks to win a House seat in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District's special election. (Adam Kelsey and Erica King)

    Analysis: The math behind Democrats' quest to win Pennsylvania special election. According to our ABC News analysis, Democrat Conor Lamb would need to pull off an electorate trifecta of sorts to win the race, by greatly increasing the Democrat turnout over what it would typically be in a midterm or special election, convincing moderate or swing voters to go blue and lucking out with depressed Republican turnout. (MaryAlice Parks)

    NRA drops last-minute money for GOP candidate into Pennsylvania special election. The NRA spent $7,868 in support of Saccone but the money wasn’t seen in a high-profile venture like TV ads or get-out-the-vote efforts. Most of it - $7,532 - was spent on mailings scheduled to be distributed in the district on Monday. (Emily Goodin)

    Trump not retreating on gun control: White House. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday pushed back against suggestions that the White House’s newly-released school safety proposals amount to a retreat for President Donald Trump in the face of pressure from the National Rifle Association. (Alexander Mallin)

    Secretary of Education: 'Arming teachers should be an option.' After facing backlash from some students following a visit to Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla. last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said on Sunday that arming teachers “should be an option for states and communities to consider.” (Kendall Karson)

    House Republicans move to wrap up Russia probe, find no evidence of collusion. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are wrapping up the panel’s Russia investigation and have finished interviewing witnesses and moved on to drafting a final report, the Republican leading the probe said Monday — a move that will likely further inflame partisan tensions that have characterized the committee’s investigation. (Benjamin Siegel)

    The Washington Post reports on the impact of President Trump's tariff announcement on the special election in Pennsylvania.

    FiveThirtyEight catches you up on the context and significance of the special election.

    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.

    Top Stories

    Top Stories

    Top Stories

    Top Stories

    ABC News Live

    ABC News Live

    24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events