Republicans Consider Pennsylvania's Special Election Critical

Originally published on March 16, 2018 11:46 am
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It is Election Day just south of Pittsburgh. Voters there are deciding who will replace their congressman, who resigned after an extramarital affair. Republican groups have spent millions of dollars to defend this congressional seat, which is one that many observers expected that they would hold easily. The Republican running in this race, Rick Saccone, has struggled to raise money and support, so President Trump flew in on Saturday to give him a boost.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Go out on Tuesday and just vote like - you got to get out there. The world is watching. This - I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching.

GREENE: I want to turn to Marc Lotter. He's with us in the studio. He's a former special assistant to President Trump. He now sits on the Trump 2020 re-election advisory board.

Thanks for coming in this morning.

MARC LOTTER: Thanks for having me. Good morning.

GREENE: So this part of Western Pennsylvania - I mean, I know there are a lot of Democratic voters, but it has been reliably Republican. President Trump carried this district by 20 points in 2016. Why is this competitive?

LOTTER: These elections always come down to local issues, local candidates. And so you - in a special election like this, everything is in a compressed timeline. But I think at the end of the day, Republican voters and voters in that district are going to want to continue to see the economic growth, continue the policies that's bringing jobs back and have bigger paychecks as opposed to the Democratic candidate, who's basically in support of taking those things away.

GREENE: You're saying this is local issues, but the Democrats have certainly tried to make this a referendum on President Trump right now, who, as you know, has, you know, historically low approval ratings during his first year in office. I mean, they seem to be making this much more of a special election that could say a lot about the national situation.

LOTTER: You know, I think many times, we try to read the tea leaves and see what these elections are about. And at the end of the day, it's two names - in this case, two names on the ballot. And the voters will choose who they think will better - who will best represent their interests. And you have, basically, a battle of ideologies there between Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the folks who - and support those folks or the people who want to continue the growth that we have seen recently under the leadership of the president.

GREENE: The fact that the Republican Party is pouring so much money and effort into this race, doesn't that suggest that the party sees this as much more than a special election about local issues? They're worried about losing this seat and what it might say.

LOTTER: Well, you have to look at all of the - I mean, they - the Congress is closely divided. Every seat counts. Every vote counts. And so when you have a special election like this, when you have an opportunity, you need to make sure that you are maximizing that opportunity to keep the seat. And obviously, the other side is going to want to take that seat and move it over to their column. And so that's why you have seen such national interest in this special election. It's the only election on the calendar right now, so it's received an outsized share of its - of coverage and interest. But today, it's - puts - you put it in the voter's hands, and you trust that they make the best decision for the future of their area.

GREENE: Marc Lotter, I spent a lot of time in this part of Pennsylvania during the election and heard from Democratic Party leaders, I mean, at the local level, who were very concerned seeing a lot of Democratic voters turn over and vote for President Trump because of their economic anxiety, because of the solutions he was proposing, because they felt like he was speaking to them. I want to play you a clip of Lorraine Petrosky. She's the Democratic Committee chair in Westmoreland County, which partially falls in this district. And here's what she told us.

LORRAINE PETROSKY: I was helping someone canvass in a pretty Republican area. And we knocked on the door of a woman who said she's Republican, and two other people in her household are Republican. All three of them are going to vote for Conor Lamb because they truly believe he's the real deal.

GREENE: Are we seeing the opposite happen right now? I mean, has this Democrat, in the type of area that President Trump really relied on - I mean, he's beginning to appeal to Republicans.

LOTTER: I think that he is trying to mask what it is that he actually stands for and what he's going to vote for when he gets to Capitol Hill. He's actually had to distance himself from Nancy Pelosi because of the toxic nature of any kind of an association with her in that district - in many districts across America - and whether he holds up on that or not. But this is a candidate who actually opposed the tax cut plan, says it openly that he opposed it. And - so when voters in Pennsylvania are going to the polls today, they should remember their paychecks - if they are going up, if they want to continue to see that going up. Democrats are already starting to release plans to reverse the tax cuts, take that money away from the American people. And that is something that they need to think about when they're going to vote today.

GREENE: But are you worried that a Democrat here may have found the formula for success in the type of area that was so critical to the president in 2016?

LOTTER: I think one - it's very difficult to take one election and try to make a national forecast out of that. We have many opportunities. There are a number, if you take a look at the map, as we go move further ahead here to 2018, where there are many seats right now in the United States Senate that Democrats currently hold - that they are in very serious trouble and have a very difficult time in keeping those seats in Indiana, in Missouri, possibly in Michigan, as well. And so there are a lot of opportunities out there. I generally don't put too much emphasis one way or the other in terms of the outcome of a single race as it looks forward to the rest of the 2018 cycle.

GREENE: Although, you have a Republican here struggling to raise funds, I mean, being outraised nearly 5-to-1 in the first seven weeks of the year. You're not worried about that.

LOTTER: It's always concerning. Obviously, you need to make sure that you are raising enough money to be able to get your message across. Some candidates are better at it than others. In this case, he has struggled in that area. But I think there's still enough support there, there is still enough outside groups that are showing his support to be able to make sure that his message gets out to voters before today.

GREENE: Marc Lotter served as special assistant to President Trump, also press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence, talking to us about that special election taking place today in Western Pennsylvania. Marc Lotter, thanks a lot.

LOTTER: Thank you.