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Pennsylvania

GOP super PACs balance out Conor Lamb's $3.2 million war chest

| Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, 5:01 p.m.
Democrat Conor Lamb,candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th District, speaks to students in the Project 18 program at Hempfield Area High School in Hempfield Twp., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Democrat Conor Lamb,candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th District, speaks to students in the Project 18 program at Hempfield Area High School in Hempfield Twp., on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

Conor Lamb, the Democratic nominee in the year's first special election for Congress, raised $3.2 million in the first seven weeks of 2018 — the latest example of why a race in a traditionally conservative district has Republican super PACs conducting rescue missions.

According to Lamb's latest Federal Election Commission report, the Democratic nominee in Pennsylvania's 18th District raised $3.2 million from Jan. 1 to Feb. 21. State Rep. Rick Saccone, the Republican nominee, has not released his latest fundraising report; as of Jan. 1, he had raised $214,675.46, a slow fundraising clip that led White House strategists and Republican-aligned groups to intervene in the campaign.

Lamb's fundraising advantage has been visible on local television. According to Kantar Media, which tracks ad buys, Lamb's campaign has run 1,985 ads; Saccone's has run 345. Both candidates have focused on straight-to-camera voter pitches, with Saccone talking up the GOP's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and Lamb pledging to defend Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts. On Tuesday, the Cook Political Report downgraded the race from “leaning” Republican to a “toss-up.”

But when outside groups are added to the mix, the count shows 743 more ads for the Republican than for Lamb. Ending Spending Action Fund, the Congressional Leadership Fund and the National Republican Congressional Committee have all spent seven figures on the race, totaling more than $7 million for Saccone; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $224,000 on TV ads, but has been off the air since last week.

National Democrats have argued that Lamb is running a strong race in part by defining himself as an independent Democrat and distancing himself from the party's Washington leadership. As Lamb says in his latest ads, he would support new leadership for the party over House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Conor will have the resources he needs to compete,” DCCC chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said at a mid-February news conference.

Lamb's financial resources also stretch further than would a similar amount of super PAC money. Campaign finance law allows candidates to pay less for advertising than outside groups such as super PACS, who can raise unlimited sums but must pay for ads at a premium.

The haul is also unprecedented for Democratic candidates in the district, which was drawn in 2011 to shore up then-Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican. In 2016, when no Democrat filed to run against Murphy, the incumbent raised $1,484,901. In 2012, the last year that a Democrat challenged Murphy, he raised just $620,205 to the Republican's $2,386,295.

Murphy resigned the seat last year after text messages obtained by local media revealed that he had urged a mistress to have an abortion. The election to replace him will be held March 13.

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