Democrat claims election victory in GOP heartland
Democrats claimed victory in a special congressional election in a Pennsylvania Republican heartland, a vote seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump's performance, although the vote remained officially too close to call yesterday.
The district was previously a solidly Republican one that Trump won by almost 20 points in the 2016 presidential election. However, official results after a nail-biting count on Tuesday showed moderate Democrat Conor Lamb leading conservative Republican Rick Saccone by a fraction of a percentage point with votes counted from 100pc of precincts.
Officials then started counting several thousand absentee ballots to try to decide the result but Mr Lamb claimed victory ahead of any official announcement and before TV networks, which often call US elections, had predicted a winner.
"It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it. You did it," Mr Lamb (33), a US Marines veteran, told cheering supporters.
Democratic sources said absentee ballots were expected to show Lamb winning the election by more than 400 votes, but Mr Saccone did not concede.
"We're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet. We're going to fight all the way to the end. You know I never give up," state legislator Mr Saccone (60) said before his rival claimed victory.
The strong showing by Mr Lamb buoys Democrats nationally as they seek to win control of the US House of Representatives from Republicans in the November midterm elections.
"This is one extra indicator that confirms a fairly pro-Democratic environment, pro-Democratic enough that the House should be in play. Democrats should be able to compete in a lot of different places across the country," said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Centre for Politics.
GOP dominance had been so strong in the district, a patchwork of small towns, farms and Pittsburgh suburbs, that Democrats ran no candidates in the previous two US House elections here. Mr Lamb's image as a moderate seemed to have worked in his favour.
Mr Saccone, who has described himself as "Trump before Trump was Trump", led the race by more than 10 percentage points in January.
But Mr Lamb, a pro-gun Democrat with strong backing from unions, has since surged in polls as Democratic voters sensed a chance to show their opposition to Mr Trump.
Mr Saccone, a former Air Force counter-intelligence officer, drew criticism toward the end of the campaign by saying that some of his opponents "have a hatred for God".
The White House arranged a string of visits to energise Mr Saccone supporters. Mr Trump himself held a campaign rally for Mr Saccone last weekend.
"The economy is raging, at an all time high, and is set to get even better.
"Jobs and wages up. Vote for Rick Saccone and keep it going!" Trump said on Twitter.
The contest, to replace a Republican who resigned amid a scandal last year, was the latest good election showing for the Democrats, who also won a governor's race in Virginia and scored a US Senate upset in conservative Alabama.