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story.lead_photo.caption Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, leaves a polling place in Carnegie after taking his grandmother, Barbara Lamb, to vote in Tuesday’s election.

MOUNT LEBANON, Pa. -- Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone battled to the wire Tuesday night in a tight congressional election in a district that President Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

With several thousand absentee and provisional ballots outstanding in the Pittsburgh-area district, Lamb earned 49.8 percent of votes cast and Saccone earned 49.6 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press, which said the race was too close to project a winner. A recount is possible if the candidates are separated by 0.5 percentage points or less.

Confident that the absentee ballots would not erase the lead held by Lamb, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declared victory for him; the National Republican Congressional Committee said it was confident of a Saccone victory "after every legal vote is counted."

Lamb, however, also declared victory early today.

"It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it," he told supporters.

Unofficial results had Lamb leading Saccone by 579 votes of the more than 226,000 tallied. Drew Miller, the Libertarian candidate, had 1,372 votes early today -- more than the margin between Lamb and Saccone.

"We're only a few hours away from me being the most hated man in America," Miller tweeted shortly after the polls closed Tuesday night.

Shortly before midnight, Saccone told his supporters that "it's not over yet."

Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor, downplayed his opposition to the Republican president Tuesday and insisted instead that the race hinged on local issues.

"This didn't have much to do with President Trump," Lamb said after casting his vote in suburban Pittsburgh.

As of late Tuesday, Lamb was matching or outpacing Hillary Clinton's performance in the 2016 presidential election across the district.

Hundreds of his family, friends and supporters were enjoying a buffet and drinks at a Canonsburg, Pa., hotel. There, exhausted backers groaned when told to keep waiting for more ballots to be counted.

Rich Fitzgerald, the Democratic Allegheny County executive, offered an upbeat assessment. "We like where we are," Fitzgerald said.

The excited supporters included Lamb's middle school football and basketball coach, Joe DelSardo, who recalled Lamb as "a leader from the beginning."

The former coach described the district as having "a lot of suit-and-tie people and people who dig in the dirt." Lamb, he said, "can talk to all of them, and that's why he can win."

Registered Republican Brett Gelb voted for Saccone, largely because the Republican candidate promised to support the president.

"Saccone backs a lot of President Trump's plans for the country," said Gelb, a 48-year-old fire technician who lives in Mount Lebanon. He added, "I do think Trump is doing a good job. I think he needs backup."

Because of a state court decision redrawing Pennsylvania's congressional boundaries, the winner will have to start campaigning for re-election almost immediately in a different district. Still, the election has far greater political consequences as each party prepares for the November midterm elections.

Democrats must flip 24 GOP-held seats this fall to seize control of the House, and months ago few had counted on this Pittsburgh-area district to be in play. The seat has been in Republican hands for the past 15 years.

It is open now only because longtime Republican congressman Tim Murphy, who espoused strong anti-abortion views, resigned last fall amid revelations of an extramarital affair in which he urged his mistress to get an abortion. Republicans cited that scandal to minimize the closeness of the race.

After voting Tuesday in Allegheny County, Saccone downplayed the significance of the unusually close race.

"The Democrats ... they're throwing everything they can at this race," he said.

Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran turned state lawmaker and college instructor, received enthusiastic backing from the social conservatives who've anchored his state career. Yet he struggled to raise money and stir the same passions that helped Trump on his way to the White House. The consistent fundraising deficit left him with limited resources.

Information for this article was contributed by Bill Barrow, Marc Levy and Steve Peoples of The Associated Press; and by David Weigel and Elise Viebeck of The Washington Post.

Photo by AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Republican Rick Saccone

A Section on 03/14/2018

Print Headline: Pennsylvania vote too close to call

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