- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2018

This week’s special congressional election being held in Pennsylvania has been a costly affair — particularly given that seat likely won’t exist in 10 months.

An estimated $16 million has been spent over the last 100 days to influence voters ahead of Tuesday, when voters will choose between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb.

“I think it would have been the seventh most expensive House race in 2016 — and there is more money to come in,” said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “They are just getting completely bombarded by political ads in a short period of time, which goes to show how important it is for the parties to show strength.”

But come November, the state’s congressional map is slated to be completely overhauled to comply with a state court decision that ruled the current lines illegal.

The two candidates won’t even live in the same district at that time, making a rematch unlikely. In other words, when everything shakes out, they could end up taking the oath of office together when the new Congress convenes next year.

“These are very short-lived bragging rights, that is for sure,” said Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant. “This is the ultimate in pyrrhic victories.”

Republicans are fighting to defend their undefeated record in special House congressional elections in the Trump era. Democrats, meanwhile, hope to build off Democrat Doug Jones’ stunning victory in a special Senate election in Alabama last year.

A recent report from Advertising Analytics showed about $12 million will be spent on television ads in a district that President Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points.

Outside groups backing Mr. Saccone have pumped in $6.5 million worth of ads, while those backing Mr. Lamb have burned through almost $1.2 million.

The Lamb campaign, however, had raised $3.9 million as of mid-February, or about three times Mr. Saccone’s own campaign take.

To put that into perspective, consider that first-place finishers in the 47 open House seat races in 2016 spent an average of $1.6 million each.

Much of the action on the GOP side has been from outside groups that spent more than $10 million.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super political action committee aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the campaign arm of House Republicans, have each invested about $3.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The Republican National Committee has spent $1 million.

“It’s important to shine a light on Conor Lamb’s career as a prosecutor where he cut plea deals for gunrunners and drug dealers,” said NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt.

Republicans also hope Mr. Lamb comes out of this contest dinged in case he chooses to run against Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in the newly configured 17th Congressional District in November.

The Center for Responsive Politics shows that Mr. Lamb’s top outside supporters were: Votevets.org, $344,353; Patriot Majority USA, $343,000; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the campaign arm for House Democrats, $312,500; and End Citizens United, $254,000.

Monmouth University released a poll Monday that showed Mr. Lamb has gained ground and found that if Democrat turnout is similar to the levels seen in other races this year that he is now the front-runner.

“This district has voted overwhelmingly Republican in recent elections, but a large number of these voters have blue-collar Democratic roots. Lamb seems to have connected with them,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Donald Trump Jr. appeared with Mr. Saccone on Monday for a pair of campaign stops. Mr. Lamb spent the day door-knocking and making get-out-the vote phone calls.

A victory could be a public relations coup for Democrats and a nightmare for Republicans who are hoping to defy the history of midterm elections — they tend to be tough on the sitting president’s party.

“It is not going to fundamentally change power in the House and the Senate, but for the Democrats it is important to show in some areas that they are going to be more competitive than some would expect,” Ms. Bryner said.

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