Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

National Groups Investing in 18th District Special Election

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

National Groups Investing in 18th District Special Election

Article excerpt

With a March 13 special election more than two months away, two national conservative groups are preparing to fight in the air and on the ground in the 18th Congressional District. And given the potential national implications for the race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, they may be harbingers of more to come.

On Friday the Congressional Leadership Fund, a "super PAC" tied to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, announced plans to boost Mr. Saccone's campaign by opening two offices in the district. In a statement, the PAC said the operation "will consist of at least 50 full-time door knockers, making 250,000 voter contacts in door-to-door efforts by Election Day."

The new offices will join those the CLF is opening in three congressional districts in Eastern Pennsylvania - a reflection of the state's potential importance in determining control of the U.S. House in the 2018 elections. The CLF played a significant role during a closely watched 2017 special election in Georgia's 6th District. It spent over $7 million to help beat back a challenge by upstart Democrat Jon Ossoff there.

Also this week, online journal Politico reported that a Virginia-based group, Ending Spending, would spend $1 million on TV ads supporting Mr. Saccone. The ad touts Mr. Saccone's military service and asserts, "In Congress, he'll support tax reform that cuts middle-class taxes, creates good jobs and grows our economies."

An expenditure of $1 million would, all by itself, nearly equal the $1.15 million that former 18th District Congressman Tim Murphy spent on his entire 2016 campaign, in which he was unopposed.

Ending Spending is a "dark money" 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which can receive unlimited contributions from donors it does not have to disclose. Founder Joe Ricketts, who owns the Chicago Cubs and founded online broker TD Ameritrade, made headlines last fall by shutting down a network of five online news outlets after staffers voted to unionize.

Mr. Lamb seized on those affiliations in a tweet responding to the Ending Spending buy. "We support unions, & we have a lot of Pirates fans volunteering their time & hard-earned money to help us win," his campaign twitter account asserted.

A call to Ending Spending was not returned, though tax filings say its mission is focused on "researching the causes and effects of out-of-control spending . and educating the American public on the dangers of deficit spending and the accumulation of debt."

These early investments suggest the potential importance of the seat. Democrats hope to capture the House in 2018, and although that is seen as an uphill climb, they have been heartened by strong showings in special elections last year. Some pundits, meanwhile, note that the 18th District, which is almost entirely white and heavily working-class, backed President Donald Trump by roughly 20 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. …

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