MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — President Trump did not fail to deliver the goods to his Western Pennsylvania supporters when he made a rabble rousing speech Saturday evening that plugged both his economic accomplishments and his support for state representative Rick Saccone in his quest to win Tuesday’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.
“We are 100 percent behind the president,” said Steve Simko, who was standing in line with his wife June. Simko, who works in the steel industry in sales, said “He hasn’t let us down on any of the things he has promised.”
Both Simkos were excited to give their vote to Saccone on Tuesday for the special election to replace Tim Murphy, the Republican congressman who retired in scandal last October.
“I think that people underestimate the support for Saccone, because of all of the national attention given to Lamb. Trump needs every reliable vote in Congress and Saccone will have his back, but also the district’s back,” Simko said, referring to Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate in the contest.
“We don’t need people in Congress who will obstruct the president’s agenda and that is what Lamb will do,” said Simko.
Thousands began lining the Atlantic Aviation hangar by mid-afternoon, some even camped out the night before to see the 45th president; by the time the president arrived at 7 p.m. sharp the room had hit capacity at just over 5,000 attendees per the fire marshal.
His first order of business was to tell the crowd he needs them to send Saccone to Washington, then went into a stream of consciousness speech touching on his upcoming meeting in North Korea, fake news, an NBC anchor, Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and taking on Oprah Winfrey if she decided to run for president.
“I would love to beat Oprah, I know her weaknesses,” he said.
He then hit on the potential for rebirth in the steel and coal industry, the strength of job growth in manufacturing, the fall of black unemployment, and the robust stock market.
“The task is to make sure this great American comeback continues full steam ahead … and that will be to make our next slogan to be ‘Keep America Great,’” he said.
“Lamb has been saying nice things about me, of course he is, this is Trump’s country, but he is not going to have our back,” Trump said of Lamb having little distinction between himself and Saccone on the campaign trail.
“The people of Pittsburgh cannot be conned by this guy Lamb, he is never going to vote for us,” he said.
The national press has lifted the results of this race to serve as a harbinger of what may be in store for the Republicans House majority in Washington – with polls showing Lamb with a 2 point edge over Saccone in the final polls heading into Tuesday’s Election Day – they’ve also lifted the probability that Lamb wins.
In an arena usually filled with ideological distinctions between two candidates showing sharp contrasts and a clear choice for voters, few exists between these two men in this special election.
Lamb supports the Second Amendment and has eluded a position on whether or not as a U.S. congressman he would support any new gun control measures, he supports Trump’s tariffs, not only sharply criticized Minority Leader Pelosi, but denounced her, and has to date not taken a jab at the president.
The biggest difference between Lamb and Saccone is on the abortion issue, Saccone is anti-abortion and Lamb is a pro-abortion Catholic who does not support proposals to ban abortions after 20 weeks, the point at which fetuses feel pain.
“I’d have voted against it,” he said last week.
Trump called him, “Lamb the sham.”
(Justin Merriman, photojournalist)Saccone has been criticized, often without context, for his lack of prowess on the campaign trail, with whispers ranging from his lack of connectivity with voters to his inability to personally raise money.
On the connectivity they’ve largely missed how the elusive Saccone interacts with voters at town hall meetings, VFW’s, and other campaign events; he lacks Lamb’s youth and charm, but could make up for that in his dogged determination and depth of details on constituent services.
“Saccone could simply be buoyed by Trump’s visit and reminders of what he has accomplished since taking office and why he needs a Republican to hold the seat,” said Paul Sracic, political science professor at Youngstown State University.
Sracic said Trump did not need to spend the entire rally talking about Saccone, instead he needs to remind voters why he needs them by talking about his accomplishments.
“Trump has had a really good few months, passing tax reform, imposing tariffs, and now announcing talks with North Korea,” he explained. “Whether or not you agree with all of these policies, Trump ran on them all in 2016, and he is delivering. Since most of the media focuses only on Russia and chaos in the White House, he needed to remind voters about how much he has accomplished."
At the same time, he needed to let them know that there was unfinished business, and that while there are some things — tariffs, for example — that he can do by himself, he needs Congress and the courts to really move his agenda. Which he accomplished Saturday evening.
“Back in the 1930's, FDR compared the government to a cart pulled by three horses. ‘We can only move forward,' said Roosevelt, 'when every horse is pulling in the same direction,’” Sracic explained.
Voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, are locked into their views on Trump, but for a special election or even for the midterms in November, the problem remains turnout.
Ed Miller, an electrician from Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, said “I don’t think people who do not support the president understand that we understand he needs a Republican Congress to make sure he can pass.
“That is the problem Republicans face. Turnout is related to enthusiasm, and right now Democrats are more enthusiastic, driven mostly by their hatred for Trump. So what Trump needed to do at this rally is both fire up his voters and convince them that their support for him has to trickle down to their vote in congressional races,” he said.
"With your vote for Saccone, we can achieve our promise," said Trump toward the end of the rally. “As long we are proud of who we are, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. We need Republicans in office in the Senate, where we are doing really good. ... and we need Rick Saccone.”
Trump took a swipe at critics who made fun of his approach that was heavy on his accomplishments and light on Saccone, talking in a mock "presidential" tone with minimal words and measured words.
“If I came like a stiff you guys wouldn’t be here tonight,” Trump said to robust applause, clearly getting the joke.
“You’re damn right,” said a gentleman standing along the barrier between the crowd and the press.
Bob Stewart of North Huntingdon left the hangar smiling from ear to ear, and said “That was such a great speech, really fired me up for Tuesday to vote.”
Was Stewart worried Saccone wasn’t mentioned more? “No, we came to get see the president and get our marching orders, he accomplished that.”
As the rally ended Trump reminded the crowd that Saccone was a good guy, and if they didn’t come out to vote for him, issues they cared about — tax reform, preservation of the second amendment, and future jurists — were at stake.
“The world is watching … now go out and vote on Tuesday for Rick Saccone,” Trump told the crowd.
Now that Trump has delivered on both measures Sracic outlined, we’ll find out Tuesday if that transferred to Saccone.