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Trump To Rally In Pennsylvania To Support Endangered GOP Candidate


President Trump is rallying Republicans in Western Pennsylvania tonight because the GOP is trying to hold onto a congressional seat in a special election on Tuesday. In a minute, we'll go to the Barbershop to talk about the implications of this and other elections leading up to the midterms. But first we're going to hear about the details of the competitive special election in Pennsylvania, which is being held in a district Trump won by 20 percentage points in 2016. NPR political correspondent Asma Khalid is here to explain what's going on. Asma, thanks so much for joining us.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Thank you. My pleasure.

MARTIN: So as we just discussed, this district is in the heart of Trump country. So why is it close?

KHALID: Well, it is right in the heart of Trump country, and the president actually remains very popular. His steel tariff announcement is also quite popular in this region. But folks I talked to say that this comes down to the two specific candidates who are running. The Democrats have this really telegenic 33-year-old veteran. His name is Conor Lamb. He's a former federal prosecutor. And he's really been running as a moderate Democrat. One GOP operative told me that the Democrats here really have an A-plus candidate.

On the other side, the Republicans have a guy by the name of Rick Saccone, who they admit is lackluster. He's much older, and he's had a lot of trouble fundraising. So you actually have outside groups who have basically kept him and his campaign afloat. The other key factor in this race, though, is unions. This district is a heavily union region, and the former congressman, although he was a Republican, he had gotten the endorsement of the AFL-CIO. This race, this time around, not only are unions backing Conor Lamb, but they actually really despise his opponent, Rick Saccone. They see him as somebody who was a really anti-union politician when he was in the local Pennsylvania legislature.

MARTIN: Well, you have to assume that these outside groups are really pouring a lot into this race for a reason. And one has to assume that part of that is that this is a question of momentum, going into the 2018 midterms, which we are already in now. And the whole question of who controls Congress will be in play. So can we glean anything from this race, do you think? Does this race have any broader implications?

KHALID: Well, Democrats certainly say that it does, and they're trying to see it this way in part because they say that even if it's a closer-than-expected loss for Conor Lamb, that that's a good sign for them because this district was not supposed to really be competitive. You know, they also see it as evidence that with the right candidate and the right message, they can make inroads into traditional Trump country.

MARTIN: And President Trump, as we said, is there tonight. What is his role there?

KHALID: Well, Michel, Republicans are very worried. And the White House does seem to get that. It's already sent Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway to this region to campaign. And because this is a special election, bringing out base voters matters a lot. You really just don't know who's going to show up on a random Tuesday in March, and the thinking is Trump can help with that. But as a side note, I should say, this race is really not so much about the future of this one district. Because this district, as it exists, will actually cease to exist by November because of a gerrymandering case. So for Republicans, this election is actually much more about just trying to avoid a demoralizing loss.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.

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