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PA-18 Will be Excellent News For John McCain

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This gets the lay of the land on tomorrow’s special election right:

Prediction: If Republican Rick Saccone scrapes out a close win in tomorrow’s special election for a House seat in southwestern Pennsylvania, Donald Trump will claim it was all because of Donald Trump. But if Saccone falls just short, Donald Trump will claim it was all because Saccone didn’t sufficiently emulate Donald Trump.

But either way, it will be very bad news for Trump. This isn’t just because this election is deep in the heart of Trump country. It’s also because the failure of the Trump/Republican argument to prevent this contest from being so close also carries ominous signs for the GOP this fall.

In the race’s final days, much of the GOP’s messaging appears focused not so much on the Trump/GOP tax cuts, or even on Trump’s tariffs, but rather on immigration, crime and Nancy Pelosi. An outside group allied with the House GOP recently launched spots slamming Democrat Conor Lamb as a “Pelosi liberal” and for allegedly supporting “sanctuary cities and amnesty for illegals.” The National Republican Congressional Committee has recently released ads that slam Lamb, a former prosecutor, as soft on gun traffickers. A super PAC allied with Trump has an ad that mentions the tax cuts but talks more about “Pelosi liberals.”

A Democratic strategist working with the Lamb campaign who tracks ad buy information tells me that these ads represent the main spending on the GOP side in the closing days. Indeed, last week, Dave Weigel and Josh Kraushaar both reported that Republicans had previously aired ads touting the tax cuts but cycled them out of the messaging, because, as Kraushaar put it, they were “barely moving the needle in the district’s working-class confines.”

The reason the downplaying of Trump’s tax plan — and the emphasis instead on hot-button issues such as immigration — matter can be found in the makeup of this district. This is a place where Trump’s claim that his tax cuts are good for working people should carry weight. Trump won it by 20 points, and it has many of the sort of working-class white voters who apparently looked to Trump as an economic savior. But it turns out that this fact may explain why the tax cuts are not sufficiently resonating.

Whether Saccone narrowly wins or narrowly loses a district Trump carried by nearly 20 points, it’s a sign Republicans are in serious, serious trouble in the fall. And while normally the outcome of the election would still be very important because of the incumbency advantage, because Pennsylvania’s elected judges decided to ram democracy RIGHT DOWN THE THROATS of Pennsylvania’s unrepresentative legislature the November election will be fought in a completely different district anyway. Saccone losing might lead to a few more preemptive retirements by GOP House members but that’s about it. It’s already bad news for Republicans and the only question is how bad.

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