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Issued: 2018-03-11

Gallery: President Donald Trump campaigns for Republican Congressional candidate Rick Saccone in Moon.

By Lisa Wardle

President Donald Trump made it clear how important he considers Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District.

"The world is watching," President Donald Trump told a crowd in suburban Pittsburgh Saturday night while rallying for candidate Rick Saccone. "I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick, but the world is watching, because I won this district."

About 5,000 supporters gathered in a Moon Township airplane hangar to see the president speak. It was the same hangar where he held a louder rally with about twice as many supporters before the 2016 election, at which people waited more than 2 hours to hear Trump speak and killed the time by throwing around giant beach balls. At this event, however, the chants were quieter and a slow stream of attendees began filing out of the facility more than 30 minutes before Trump's speech wrapped up.

Trump still said the mood of the event was like a Penn State football game.

"Normally I would not come [for an event like this], but it's Pennsylvania and I love it," he said.

The president's visit to southwestern Pennsylvania can be seen as three-fold: stumping for Republican Saccone ahead of a close congressional race, promoting his action on steel tariffs and mustering support for re-election.

Stumping for Saccone

Trump said he needs Saccone in office, and that though 33-year-old Democrat and political newcomer Conor Lamb is "handsome" he cannot be trusted to maintain his moderate positions or vote with Republicans.

"We need him. We need Republicans. We need the votes," Trump said. "Otherwise they're going to take away your tax cuts. They're going to take away your Second Amendment rights. They're going to take away your military."

Indeed, most of the president's praise for Saccone was about the fact he is a reliable Republican voter. He also recognized the lack of enthusiasm for Saccone.

"Somebody else would be here, and Rick, what would it be? 50-60 people in front?" Trump asked.

Saccone took his turn to praise Trump, saying the president has already proven he supports families in the region with legislation including The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. He urged the crowd to vote for him in Tuesday's special election.

"Southwestern Pennsylvania doesn't need another downtown Pittsburgh liberal in Congress," Saccone told the crowd before the president arrived. "Let's get someone from the heart of coal country, supporting your families, values and concerns. I'm battle-tested and ready to serve!"

The conservative Republican is running against Conor Lamb in Tuesday's election to fill the 18th Congressional District seat vacated by Tim Murphy, the pro-life congressman who urged his mistress to have an abortion. The region encompasses suburban Pittsburgh and hugs the West Virginia border.

Trump carried the district by 19 points in 2016. Though Saccone held an early lead in this special election, his Democratic opponent has caught up in the past several weeks to make the race a statistical toss-up.

As of Feb. 21, Lamb had raised $3.9 million compared to Saccone's $918,000. Outside money has boosted the Republican's efforts, mainly through attack ads claiming a vote for Lamb is a vote for U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Democrat contests that claim, saying he will not support Pelosi for leader if he's elected.

Former Vice President Joe Biden came out to support Lamb this week. No other big-name Democrats are expected to stump for the opponent.

Republicans are concerned about this shift in a previously secure Republican region and have come out in heavy force behind Saccone. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway this week served as a "warm-up band" to Trump's campaign stop and Donald Trump Jr. will visit the region on Monday. Ivanka Trump campaigned with Saccone last month, before this last-minute push.


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