Republican Rick Saccone holds a slim lead over Democrat Conor Lamb in the special election for a Western Pennsylvania congressional seat, according to a Monmouth University poll released Thursday.
Saccone leads Lamb, 49 percent to 46 percent, the poll shows — only a marginal edge for Republicans in a district that supported President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016. Another 4 percent are undecided, and 1 percent support a third-party candidate.
The poll used a turnout model "similar to voting patterns seen in other special elections over the past year," according to a memo from Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray. Democrats have fared well in those special elections, running close behind Republicans in a handful of House races contested in GOP-friendly territory, and capturing a Senate seat in Alabama last December.
More traditional turnout models give Saccone a slight boost. Using a model that forecasts lower turnout than the midterm election, in 2014, Saccone leads by 5 points, 50 percent to 45 percent. A turnout model that looks more like the 2016 presidential electorate shows Saccone up by 4 points, 48 percent to 44 percent.
"Saccone has a slight edge, but it’s nowhere near the double-digit advantage Republicans typically enjoy in this district," Murray said. "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."
The enthusiasm gap in the district strongly favors Democrats. Nearly half of Democratic voters, 48 percent, say they are following the March 13 special election closely. By contrast, only 26 percent of Republican voters are following the race closely.
Trump has scheduled a campaign rally near the district, Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, on Feb. 21.
National and local Republicans are concerned about the race, pouring millions into TV ads to boost Saccone and to tie Lamb to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Earlier this week, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a coordinated TV buy with Saccone, a state legislator.
But national Democrats are staying dark, with DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján insisting that Lamb is the "strongest voice" for his candidacy.
"When you look at how Conor Lamb has been able to stay up on the air and match the Republican onslaught, it’s because he’s had the resources to do that," Luján (D-N.M.) said in a meeting with reporters in Washington on Wednesday. "When you saw us lean in a little bit, it’s because we saw that there was a little bit of support that was needed there. And then Conor quickly was able to respond — his supporters responded — and he’s back in a commanding place."
Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, has tried to cast himself as a bipartisan reformer, expressing disappointment by leadership in both parties. Last month, Lamb told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he wouldn’t support Pelosi’s bid for speaker. But outside groups, like Congressional Leadership Fund, continue to attack Lamb for "join[ing] Pelosi’s liberal flock," as one CLF ad says.
Lamb has a 1-point lead in favorability, as 49 percent view him favorably, and 48 percent view Saccone favorably. Saccone, however, has a higher negative rating, as 39 percent view him unfavorably, and 31 percent view Lamb unfavorably.
The Monmouth University poll was conducted Feb. 12-14, surveying 320 likely voters, drawn from a list of registered voters who have voted in one of the last four primary or general elections, plus recent registrants. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 5.5 percentage points.