White House tries to distance itself from Pennsylvania special election

Pennsylvania GOP asks for investigation into special election
@ConorLambPA/Twitter via CNN
Conor Lamb

The White House is trying to distance itself from a poor showing by the Republican candidate in the Pennsylvania’s special election Tuesday night.

President Donald Trump campaigned for state Rep. Rick Saccone in a weekend rally outside of Pittsburgh and the GOP spent millions on the race to prevent an embarrassing defeat in a district Trump won handily.

But it wasn’t enough: Saccone is trailing Democrat Conor Lamb with 100% of Election Day and absentee votes counted. Lamb has claimed victory but Saccone has said he will fight on.

The White House sought to highlight on Wednesday Lamb’s support for Trump’s policies.

“The Democrat in the race really embraced the President’s policies and position, where he didn’t embrace Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leader,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Shah said the White House wouldn’t comment officially beyond that. He called the result “essentially a tie.”

Trump wants candidates who embrace his policies to win in 2018, Shah said, and Republican candidates have a good record to run on.

“The President does want candidates that embrace his policies, his vision, to win up and down the ballot,” he said. “Each campaign is unique. Each candidate is unique. We saw that last night. We’ll see it in 2018.”

Shah said that “Republicans running for office have a great record to run on. They have a great record on the economy.”

Internal Republican talking points on the race, provided to CNN by a GOP source, highlighted the importance of good candidates and fundraising, but also noted that the contest should be seen as a “wake-up call.”

“It’s vital to aggressively raise the resources you need and define both your opponent and yourself,” the talking points said. “If those things had happened in this race, I think we’d be looking at a very different outcome.”

Blame for Saccone

Earlier Wednesday, two sources close to White House placed the blame on Saccone, echoing what other Republicans have also said about the candidate.

“GOP does not view (the race) as a referendum on Trump. Rather a weak candidate,” one source said.

“Candidates either run hard or run scared. It was obvious that Saccone decided to run scared,” said another.

Lamb’s narrow lead in the solidly-GOP district is a bad sign for the Republican Party as it heads into November’s midterm elections.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and top campaign lieutenants told a closed-door GOP meeting Wednesday that the result shows that Democratic enthusiasm is real and all incumbents need to be prepared for competitive races.

Multiple people from the administration campaigned for Saccone, including Vice President Mike Pence and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway. Donald Trump Jr. also campaigned with Saccone on the eve of the election.

In his rally Saturday night, Trump heaped praise on Saccone.

“He’s a very competent person,” Trump said. “He’s a very hard worker. He knows things that many people don’t know. He understands North Korea maybe better than anybody.”

“This is a very extraordinary guy. We need him,” he added.