- President Donald Trump visited Pennsylvania on Thursday ahead of a major special congressional election.
- He touted the Republican candidate repeatedly.
- It was his opening salvo in the important race.
President Donald Trump fired his opening salvo on Thursday in what amounts to the biggest political race of early 2018 – a special congressional election in a heavily Republican southwestern Pennsylvania district.
The race between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb is being viewed by many as a bellwether of what’s to come later this fall in the midterms. The only major election on the calendar before the fall has Saccone and Lamb fighting to replace former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned late last year following revelations that he had an affair and allegedly urged a woman to have an abortion.
In 2016, Trump won the district by 20 points. But in light of Republicans’ recent loss in a special election in Alabama and Trump’s low popularity ratings, Trump has been approaching the Pennsylvania race much more proactively than other recent contests as Republicans worry about holding onto their majorities in the House and Senate – even though the White House billed the Pittsburgh stop as an official event and not a campaign rally.
Making a stop at H&K Equipment just a few miles south of Pittsburgh, Trump said he thought Saccone was “going to do really well.”
“He’s a great guy – loves this area, loves this country,” Trump said. “He just met me at the plane and he’s here someplace. But actually, this is about tax cuts. This is about economic reform. But Rick is a great guy. He’s a special person.”
Saccone has called himself “Trump before Trump was Trump” and is a longtime supporter of the president.
Earlier Thursday, Trump tweeted that he was headed to the Pittsburgh area to “give my total support to RICK SACCONE, running for Congress in a Special Election (March 13).”
“Rick is a great guy,” he continued. “We need more Republicans to continue our already successful agenda!”
His press team quickly sought to clear up that the event was not for Saccone, but to tout the president’s recently passed tax legislation and a strong economy.
“The President is supportive of Saccone’s candidacy, but this is an official event,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One. “His message is going to be focused on the tax cut bill, on the economy.”
Ahead of the speech, Trump promised to return to Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District and campaign for Saccone ahead of the March 13 election. The president even said he would “fill out the stadium” for the Republican candidate.
The speech itself focused much more on the economy than Saccone, with Trump sticking to the messaging.
“It’s the economy, stupid,” Trump said. “Did you ever hear that one?”