Republican Representative Tim Murphy retired last October after allegations came forward that he had urged his mistress to terminate a pregnancy. His resignation has trigged a special election slated for Tuesday, March 13th. In the November 2017 nominating conventions, Democrats selected former federal prosecutor Conor Lamb and the Republicans selected state Representative Rick Saccone. A new Gravis Marketing poll conducted January 3rd-5th, finds Republican Rick Saccone leading Democrat Conor lamb by twelve points. Twenty percent of respondents are currently undecided.
The key to Saccone’s lead is a combination of the deep partisan advantage the Republican party has in the district that Donald Trump carried 58.1%-38.5% in 2016 and the crossover of 14% of the likely Democratic voters. The managing partner of Gravis Marketing, Doug Kaplan, remarked that “Sacconne is getting some Democratic support and enough Clinton voters, while holding the line on his base.”
In 2014, Tom Wolf lost the district to incumbent Governor Tom Corbett 54.9%-45.1%. In 2012, while Barack Obama was losing 57.9%-41% to Mitt Romney, Senator Bob Casey was losing the 18th to Tom Smith 53.4%-44.8%. The last Democrat to carry the district in a statewide race was Attorney General Kathleen Kane in 2012 when she defeated Republican David Freed in the 18th by a narrow 49%-48.2% margin. Former Representative Tim Murphy ran unopposed in both 2014 and 2016.
In 2017, data compiled by Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight shows that Democrats overperformed by sixteen points ranging from three points in the special election for Utah’s Third Congressional District to thirty points in the Alabama special election for Jeff Sesssions’ Senate seat. The latest poll shows Democrats out performing Clinton’s 2016 margin by eight points, which would be “consistent with the range of results we saw in federal 2017 special elections” said Kaplan.
In recent weeks, Donald Trump’s job approval numbers have been rebounding a bit. The current Real Clear Politics aggregate gives the President a 40.4%-55.9% split, which is an improvement over his December 13th low of 37%-58.1%. Trump is at 54%-39% among likely voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th according to the new Gravis Marketing poll. This suggests that the President may be rebounding disproportionately well in rural parts of the rust belt. Kaplan points out “Trump is viewed favorably by a quarter of 18th District likely Democratic voters which is giving Saccone an important boost.” The poll also shows Senator Bob Casey with a better 34%-38% approval spread than Governor Tom Wolf’s 32%-46% spread.
Issues polled included banning transgender bathroom usage (ban supported 46%-38%), gay conversion therapy (should be illegal 63%-17%), same sex marriage (support 52%-39%), abortion (opposed 45%-38%), tax reform bill signed in December by the President (47%-37% approve) and recreational marijuana (supported 50%-43%). Pennsylvania currently prohibits recreation use of marijuana, but permits medicinal use. The poll suggests that there is opposition to the recent move by Jeff Sessions to allow federal prosecutors to pursue marijuana possession, distribution and use in states such as Pennsylvania that permit medicinal marijuana use. Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s spokeswoman told reporters last week that “Senator Toomey continues to believe that the federal government should help facilitate research into marijuana for legitimate medical purposes.” Kaplan said, “Toomey’s 18th district constituents support the Senator going farther in moving towards recreation marijuana possession and use.” Recreation marijuana, according to the Gravis Marketing poll, is supported by 36% of 18th congressional district Republicans, 57% of Independents and 30% of Democrats.