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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — President Trump will be in Pittsburgh on Thursday, visiting H&K Equipment company in North Fayette.
KDKA political editor Jon Delano spoke with company officials on Tuesday who were not yet able to talk on camera about the visit, but sources say the President is expected to hail his new tax bill and how it helps local manufacturers like H&K.
But there’s also an obvious political side to the trip.
“It’s an official White House visit, but obviously any time the President comes to town there are political implications,” says Mike DeVanney, a local Republican political strategist. “And right here in our backyard in the 18th congressional district, we have a big congressional race coming up in just eight short weeks.”
Yes, in just eight weeks, voters in the 18th congressional district — Republican Tim Murphy’s old district — will elect a new congressman, choosing between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone.
It’s a race that the Republicans cannot afford to lose, says DeVanney.
“If Republicans were to lose this seat, not only would there be one less Republican in Congress, but this would in many ways send a signal that the November mid-term elections really are going to be cataclysmic for the party,” he says.
This 18th district elected President Trump over Hillary Clinton by 20 points and generally votes for Republican candidates.
But neither Saccone nor Lamb are well known, so Republicans are taking no chances.
Three different Republican SuperPACs are already spending money in Pittsburgh to help Saccone beat lamb, with two running television commercials.
And the President could help Saccone with the many Democrats here that voted for him.
“These are the exact kind of working class Democrats — the Reagan Democrats — that Rick Saccone is going to need to win,” says DeVanney.
So it’s no surprise the President is coming back to a region that was very good to him in 2016, giving him the votes he needed to carry Pennsylvania.
“I’ve worked this district for many years, and it really is a tale of two districts — suburban Pittsburgh Democrats are affluent and more liberal but the large majority of this district are conservative Democrats,” DeVanney says.
Those conservative Democrats elected Donald Trump and Tim Murphy, whose resignation prompted a special March 13th congressional election between Lamb and Saccone.
DeVanney helped Murphy win the 18th many times, and he says the President can energize his base to help Saccone.
“Special elections are base elections. These are going to be our lowest turn-out elections, and the people who come to the polls are really on the polar sides of the parties — your most conservative, usually older, and your most active voters,” he says. “These are the types that are going to participate in this type of a race.”
If the President’s voters come out for Saccone, the thinking goes, he should have no problem defeating Lamb.
President Trump’s visit underscores the importance of this race for his party.
Again, so far this visit by the President has been billed as an official one. Sources tell KDKA’s Jon Delano there are no plans to fund-raise for Saccone on Thursday or campaign for him, but don’t be surprised if the President calls out Saccone by name at some point during this visit.
After all, Saccone shares many of the President’s views, once saying he was “Trump before Trump.”