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Westmoreland

Bad weather expected, but so are voters in Tuesday's congressional special election

Rich Cholodofsky
| Sunday, March 11, 2018, 2:42 p.m.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.

Voter turnout in Westmoreland County for Tuesday's special election to fill Pennsylvania's vacant 18th Congressional District seat is expected to be fairly heavy, relatively speaking.

About 30 percent of the county's eligible voters will likely cast ballots, predicted Beth Lechman, director of the county Elections Bureau.

Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone are vying to fill the vacancy left by Tim Murphy, who resigned in October following the public disclosure of an extramarital affair.

Lamb, 33, is a former Marine and federal prosecutor from Mt. Lebanon. Saccone, 60, is a state representative from Elizabeth and an Air Force veteran.

The 18th District includes about two-thirds of Westmoreland County as well as Washington County and parts of Allegheny and Greene counties.

In Westmoreland, voters in 193 of the county's 305 precincts will participate. Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Though only a single race is on the ballot, turnout could surpass totals from both of last year's elections. For the May municipal primary, 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Turnout for the November general election was 27 percent.

“We're preparing for this election as we would any other election,” Lechman said.

Westmoreland officials said the special election is expected to cost about $230,000.

The National Weather Service expects Tuesday's high temperature to reach 36 degrees, which is about 10 degrees below normal. Scattered snow showers throughout the region are predicted to start Monday night and continue through Wednesday.

A 2007 study from the University of Georgia found that bad weather suppressed turnout, with a disproportionate impact on Democratic voters. Turnout dropped 1 percent for each inch of rain and a half percent for every inch of snowfall, researchers found.

Less than a quarter inch of snow is expected to fall on most of the region while polls are open Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

A survey commissioned by The Weather Channel in 2012 found that more than a third of undecided voters said bad weather could keep them from the polls.

The attention the Lamb-Saccone race has received has raised expectations for a heavy turnout, Lechman said.

The candidates and special interests have spent millions of dollars on television ads. Outside groups have spent more than $10 million for Saccone and about $1.6 million for Lamb, who has raised $3.8 million in direct contributions compared to his opponent's $900,000.

Both campaigns also have seen high-profile visits to the region from President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden.

The race is seen as a referendum on Trump's presidency and a major indicator of whether Republicans will maintain control of Congress or if Democrats might overtake them in midterm elections this year.

“It will be a busy day at the polls,” Lechman said. “Because the ballot is very small, voters will be processed very quickly.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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