In Southwestern PA House Special Election, Trump Looms Large For Campaign Volunteers

Mar 9, 2018


Just days away from the March 13 special congressional election between Republican Rick Saccone (Elizabeth) and Democrat Conor Lamb (Mt. Lebanon), volunteers are knocking doors, calling voters and distributing campaign literature in an effort to get out the vote in the 18th District south of Pittsburgh.

For Lamb’s volunteers, this final push comes well after they started to lay the groundwork to try to flip the seat to Democratic control. In fact, they began to organize shortly after President Trump was elected in 2016 – long before Lamb announced his run for the 18th in October 2017.

Lynne Hughes of Mt. Lebanon canvasses for Lamb on the weekends, though she said her efforts to turn the 18th blue really started when she founded the grassroots organization, Mount Lebanon Rise Up, back in January 2017.

The left-leaning organization MoveOn.org had called for community meetings across the country to build resistance to the president’s agenda, Hughes recalled.

“I figured, I have a house. I’ll host a meeting,” she said. “I thought maybe five people would show up. It was about 25 at our first one.”

The organization now has between 350 and 400 members, according to Hughes.

One of its first initiatives was called “Mondays with Murphy,” where the group's members would hold protests outside a local office of former GOP-Congressman Tim Murphy. Murphy’s resignation amid scandal last fall prompted next week's special election.

Hughes said the Affordable Care Act became her group’s primary focus. For her, the issue was personal because she has a heart disorder.

But others didn’t take the protests seriously, according to Hughes.

“They called us, I think ‘street theater’ is what the chairman of the [Pennsylvania] Republicans said about Mondays with Murphy,” Hughes remembered. “But we were behind the scenes organizing and preparing and getting ready for elections like this one [on March 13].”

Now, the 18th District finds itself with a tight race between Lamb and Saccone. As the special election nears, Mt. Lebanon Rise Up is working with a coalition of like-minded groups in the district to drive turnout for Lamb.

In Mt. Lebanon, Mykie Reidy’s house has become a staging ground for the campaign.

Yard signs for Lamb lean against the wall in her dining room, and volunteers work at a table with neatly stacked campaign leaflets.

Mykie Reidy, the leader of Progress 18 PA, has turned her Mt. Lebanon home into an organizing base for Democrat Conor Lamb's congressional campaign.
Credit An-Li Herring

Reidy leads a group that’s been organizing for the Lamb campaign, called Progress 18 PA, and like Hughes, she protested at Murphy’s office. She said the ex-congressman should have stood up to Trump.

“They weren’t being the check,” Reidy said. “That’s what they’re there for, to be a check on the executive power, and they weren’t doing their job.”

While Reidy is hopeful that Lamb could be that check, Hughes sometimes worries his supporters are being unrealistic, that their excitement about flipping the 18th could be distorting their view of the former federal prosecutor’s chances.

“We’re well-aware that we live in the bubble of the suburbs of Pittsburgh in our district,” Hughes reflected.

 

About a 25-minute drive away in Washington County, Karyn Kail of Southpointe says she’s doing whatever she can to help Republican state Rep. Saccone get elected. She spends a few days a week at his campaign headquarters, making calls, stuffing envelopes and assembling yard signs, among other tasks.

Karyn Kail volunteers regularly at Republican Rick Saccone's campaign headquarters, located a short drive from her Southpointe home.
Credit An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA

While Kail acknowledges the energy on Lamb’s side, she says turnout is the most important thing.

“Bottom line is, it’s who goes out to the polls, who goes out on Election Day,” she said.

Kail said she’s excited about Saccone.

“I believe he’s a true conservative, and not what they call a 'RINO,' Republican in name only,” she explained.

Kail is confident Saccone will prevail in next Tuesday’s election because, according to her, he’s a good fit for the generally conservative 18th District. He supports the recent GOP tax cuts and opposes abortion, Kail notes.

Saccone's support for the coal industry is a crucial selling point for another volunteer, Christina Zaccone.

Christina Zaccone of South Franklin Township expects Republican candidate Rick Saccone to be a strong voice for coal on Capitol Hill, if elected.
Credit An-Li Herring / 90.5 WESA

Zaccone lives in South Franklin Township in Washington County, not far from the Greene County line, and her husband is a coal miner at Consol’s Bailey Mine in Graysville.

 

When Barack Obama was president and stepped up environmental regulations, Zaccone recalled, her husband’s hours were cut in half.

 

The stay-at-home mother said her family takes comfort in Saccone’s vocal support for President Trump and his efforts to scale back regulations from the Obama era.

 

“As soon as Trump won, things got better, and they are better than they’ve ever been,” Zaccone declared.

Zaccone said most people she knows either work in coal or coal-related industries, and according to her, they’re going to vote for Saccone. She said they’re wary of Democrats, even a moderate like Lamb.

“I see a lot of Saccone signs. I mean, that’s all I see – I don’t think I’ve seen a Lamb sign anywhere near where I live,”  Zaccone noted.

Zaccone remembered making a similar observation with Trump before he hurtled to victory in 2016.