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ANXIEY IN PENNSYLVANIA GOP candidate struggles with campaign basics

Issued: 2018-03-10

In this March 5, 2018, photo, Republican Rick Saccone, speaks at a campaign rally in Waynesburg, Pa. Saccone is running against Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election being held on March 13 for the PA 18th Congressional District vacated by Republican Tim Murphy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — There is no sign of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone on Sherwood Drive.

Just days before western Pennsylvania's special election, his campaign informed some residents that he may knock on doors that morning in this critical GOP stronghold. It's almost 11 a.m., and they're still waiting.

"He was supposed to stop by today," 68-year-old Republican John Debich says, scanning the empty streets of suburban Greensburg from his front porch. "It's the second time we've been avoided."

Debich's disappointment underscores a dangerous truth for the GOP as the nation braces for the next special election of the Trump era on Tuesday.

Saccone may be President Donald Trump's strong favorite in a conservative region, but he is struggling with the basics of modern-day politics. In a race that will hinge on voter turnout, the 60-year-old state lawmaker has little organization of his own — at least compared with Democrat Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old former Marine and federal prosecutor who has never before run for office.

Most of Saccone's appearances over the last week have been closed to the public, and those that weren't, attracted only a handful of supporters.

Drawing little energy from within, Saccone has been forced to outsource the lifeblood of many successful campaigns — the so-called get-out-the-vote operation — to paid contractors and the national GOP, which has scrambled to pick up the slack. Fearing another special election embarrassment, the White House is sending Trump to the region for the second time to help energize local Republicans on Saturday night.

"We're doing everything that we need to do to get out the vote and inspire people," Saccone told reporters this week, before he walked into a closed-door event with representatives from the local oil and gas industry. He added, "All the traditional things, we're doing."

Later that day, Lamb marched up and down the hilly streets of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, in the snow to encourage Democrats to vote. Some residents of the working-class Pittsburgh suburb were surprised to see the Democratic candidate at their doorstep.

Josh Jaros and his partner Kim Zouko, both 36, invited the fresh-faced Lamb into their living room, where he played with their 3-year-old daughter for a few minutes before asking them who they were voting for.

"You've got our vote. And if you didn't before, you do now," Jaros told him.

Lamb shuttled back to a nearby campaign office after knocking on 27 doors to speak to nearly 40 young volunteers, many of them in high school. They munched on macaroni and cheese and pulled pork as Lamb emphasized the importance of preserving Medicare and Social Security — programs that help people maintain "basic dignity," he said.

In a brief interview as volunteers buzzed through the two-story office, the first-time candidate insisted that winning elections isn't "rocket science."

"We've been working really hard to identify who our people are through door knocking and calls. That's what all these people are doing," Lamb said. "Election day is going to be like Dunkirk — everybody in their car is going to go out and make sure everybody gets there."

Some Washington Republicans concede that Lamb is the superior candidate in the race, which would have been an easy win for Republicans if not for Saccone's struggle to raise money and build an aggressive campaign.


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