President Donald Trump is traveling to western Pennsylvania Thursday to rally support for Rick Saccone, an extremely pro-gun, anti-choice Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives running for Congress.
The White House reportedly insisted Thursday’s event was not a campaign stop, but the president appears to believe otherwise. Trump tweeted out his “total support” of Saccone Thursday morning, calling him a “great guy.”
Will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to RICK SACCONE, running for Congress in a Special Election (March 13). Rick is a great guy. We need more Republicans to continue our already successful agenda!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
Saccone is vying for a seat in the state’s 18th district, a seat vacated after Congressman Tim Murphy resigned in scandal after it was revealed the pro-life politician urged his mistress to get an abortion.
It is unsurprising Trump would back a candidate who has called himself the “Trump before Trump was Trump.” Since joining the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2011, Saccone has spearheaded legislation that has given him the reputation of being one of the most conservative members in the state legislature.
Saccone has frequently mixed his Christian religion with politics. He once co-sponsored legislation that required all of Pennsylvania’s public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.” He also sponsored a resolution that declared 2012 the “Year of the Bible.”
Saccone is also a fierce proponent of Second Amendment rights. He holds an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and in 2017 alone has sponsored at least four bills aimed at strengthening gun ownership. One bill includes expanding the state’s Human Relations Act to bar discrimination against gun owners. The co-sponsorship memo singled out Chuck E. Cheese for a company policy that prohibits customers from carrying firearms inside.
The PA-18 race is expected to be a close one. The Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb, is a first-time candidate and former Marine, hoping the win the votes of the more than 87,000 union voters and their relatives who live in the 18th district. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the state, announced its endorsement of Lamb in December.
The district, however, also voted for Trump by a margin of over 20 percent — and the special election in March will be a real test of whether Trump’s 2016 supporters still believe in his message.
The Republican party has made it their mission not lose the seat, with conservative groups like Ending Spending and pro-Trump 45Committee pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan, has opened two field offices in the district with plans to recruit 50 canvassers to knock on 250,000 doors.
At the state level, Democrats made crucial gains in a number of special election contests Tuesday night, even flipping a long-held Republican seat. These narrowing margins of victories in several states are putting Republicans on edge for what is to come in the midterms.