Conor Lamb, Rick Saccone cast ballots; voter turnout strong in 18th Congressional District contest
Democrat Conor Lamb said he felt confident as he left First Church of Christ in Mt. Lebanon, where he cast his vote in his special election showdown Tuesday against Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone.
"We worked really hard for it, and I think it paid off," Lamb said when asked what he thought about recent polls that show the race is close.
Members of the media, local and national, mobbed Lamb as he walked in to vote and as he walked out. Reporters took up and blocked much of the available parking at the church, prompting poll workers to call Allegheny County election officials and mark off parking for voters only.
Saccone voted later Tuesday morning at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth.
Television news crews set up in the church's handicapped parking spaces, forcing at least one woman who walked with a cane to hobble up the sloped parking lot in order to reach the polling place.
Saccone parked in the lower lot and talked about negative comments he has received on social media as he walked to the precinct. After he exited, Saccone held up his smartphone to show that he was Skyping with his son, who is overseas.
Saccone thanked voters and President Trump for their support before leaving.
"Thank you for your support, Mr. President," Saccone said from the middle of a media scrum. "We all love you out here in Western Pennsylvania, and we're going to keep pushing for you."
Lamb said he doesn't think the race is a referendum on Trump and didn't think the president's announcement on tariffs would sway voters.
"I just think opinions are divided about it, and me and Mr. Saccone both agree that we should stick up for the steelworkers," Lamb said.
The 18th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties, became open when U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, resigned in October amid a marital scandal.
Outside Lamb's voting precinct, voter Todd Kreps said he was happy to vote for Lamb. Kreps' children went to school with Lamb, and the two families know each other well.
"They're great people," Kreps said of the Lambs.
Jerry Rosenfeld said he voted for Lamb because he was not Saccone. Rosenfeld, 84, of Mt. Lebanon said he is glad the television ads will end.
"I thought the Republican ads were terrible," Rosenfeld said. "I don't watch much TV, but the little I did was all ads."
Margaret Vines, 48, of Mt. Lebanon voted for Saccone but thought Lamb had the better shot of winning. Vines said she hoped the race is close and that the two parties win near-equal seats in the upcoming midterms. She worried that nothing would get done if either party had a big majority.
"I just think it's better when we're kind of in the middle," Vines said.
Vines brought her 9-year-old daughter, Maggie, to the polls. She said it was important for Maggie to see people voting, especially after seeing and hearing the ads, phone calls and people knocking on their door during the campaign.
Bill Chorgo, 71, of Elizabeth Township said he voted for Saccone because he wants the country to have a better economy.
"I want to get the country back going the way it was," he said. "I want a strong military. I want good, lower taxes. I want a good solid government."
The special election that has gripped the nation's attention has been "transformational" in Westmoreland County, said Democratic Committeeman Ron Zera, 77, of Hempfield.
"People who had Trump signs in their yards in 2016 now have Conor Lamb signs," Zera said.
Many believe the race could be a precursor to the 2018 midterm elections.
Although the 18th District boasts a solid Democratic registration edge, Murphy, a Republican, ran without opposition in his last two elections. And voters here, who voted Republican in the last five presidential contests, gave Donald Trump a 20-point victory in 2016.
But the special election pitting Saccone, 60, against Lamb, 33, has been touch and go in recent weeks as the candidates traded places in polls within a margin of error.
"It's been a couple of decades since we've seen involvement like this," said Zera's wife, Carol, 74, who was among early voters at Hempfield's Foxhill precinct.
Four miles away in Unity, voters hurried to duck inside the polls at Sun Rise Church, as cold winds whipped about snowflakes. Poll workers said voters were lined up about 15 deep when they opened the doors at 7 a.m. Within two hours, 224 people had cast votes.
Fred Carlson, 62, of Monroeville dressed warm to hand out Saccone literature at the Unity polling place. He said Saccone supporters he talked with were voting their pocketbooks.
"They like the economic boost that occurred under Trump," he said.
Paul Uhrinek, 65, of Unity said the election can't end soon enough for him.
"I'm a Republican, but I'm voting for Conor Lamb," he said. "Everybody I know has hated this campaign. It was bad on both sides, but it was worse on the Republican side. I feel I was treated as an idiot, and I'm very insulted by it."
"I thought it was pretty dirty, very negative," said Mercedes Regola, 87, of Unity. She was offended that Saccone never disavowed the Republican attack ads and said she voted for Lamb.
"The thing that appealed to me was that he said services are one of the things you do to pay the rent for living — that and the fact that he's not controlled by the PACs," she said. "It's time for the old politicians to go."
Matt Pergar, 38, of Unity predicted the vote count would go down to the wire.
Pergar said he voted for Saccone "because I'm conservative and he's conservative."
James Kuhla, 31, of Unity said he was pleased to cast his ballot for a member of his generation.
"I think we need some younger representation," he said.
At the West Point Volunteer Fire Department's fire hall in Hempfield, election judge Guy Rubei was amazed to see voters lined up at 7 a.m.
"The turnout has been phenomenal for this type of election," he said.
At about 5 p.m., Allegheny County Elections Division officials said turnout was "higher than expected" and could exceed 30 percent.
In Greensburg, George Weisel, 70, and his wife, Mary, 69, both Republicans, said they voted for Saccone because they believe he'll support the president.
"It's going be close, but I think Saccone is going to pull it off," George Weisel said.
Reporters Brian Bowling, Debra Erdley and Rich Cholodofsky contributed.