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Steel district may flip despite Trump tariffs

The United Steelworkers union is applauding President Trump's move to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. But they're supporting Democrat Conor Lamb over Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania's 18th district special election for congress. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich explores whether workers will vote with union leadership.

Posted: Mar 14, 2018 6:10 AM
Updated: Mar 14, 2018 6:13 AM

When I moved a bit farther out into Pittsburgh's southern suburbs just ahead of the 2016 election, a fair number of my new neighbors' yards sported Trump/Pence signs, with one lonely Clinton/Kaine sign holding down the corner.

Eighteen months later, as the special House election between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone looms, campaign signs have sprouted in many more yards and Lamb is definitely leading in my very unscientific sign poll. And, Lamb signs are anchored in a few yards that heralded Trump in 2016. (Most scientific polls indicate the race is a dead heat in a district Romney and Trump won handily.)

For a local election, there has been precious little emphasis on local issues by either campaign. In an age of hyper-partisanship, Tip O'Neill's truism that all politics is local has been turned on its head. Today, most politics is national, even nationalistic. And that is true in Pennsylvania's 18th district, which likely won't exist in its current form come November's midterm elections, thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrawing the state's legislative map to redress decades of gerrymandering.

But for now, in a deeply gerrymandered district whose far-flung constituents have little in common ideologically, educationally, economically or culturally, the election will be decided not by any policy nuance or local infrastructure plan but by a brutal calculus: Which 18th District will turn out the most voters on March 13?

Lamb leads in local fundraising, but both candidates have substantially benefited from outside funders (Saccone much more so than Lamb) -- partisans who see Lamb and Saccone not as visionaries, not as leaders, not as emerging lights of a strong American democracy, but as reliable votes for their national agendas, the means to a majority.

Like most local candidates everywhere today, Lamb and Saccone are mere surrogates for national partisan interests rather than advocates for a clearly defined local constituency.

However, it is a fractured local constituency, deeply divided on emotional and ideological lines rather than local issues, that will decide the race. Campaign ads make it clear that -- at least for the candidates and their parties -- this race is not about the fate of western Pennsylvania but the face of the American future.

The difference in ad strategy is stark: To the surprise of no one who has covered the political silly season, one of the first GOP Saccone ads (produced and paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund) was a play on his opponent's name -- he's a sheep who is led by Nancy Pelosi (get it?). In fact, images of Pelosi, that bogeywoman of the right, her mouth pinched, her visage darkened, are featured in most GOP anti-Lamb spots.

Conversely, Lamb has publicly rejected Pelosi but trod warily around Trump. Saccone certainly hasn't. He calls himself "Trump before Trump was Trump." Trump made his second visit to Pittsburgh to rally support for Saccone -- and himself -- on Saturday, praising Saccone and pleading with his base to deliver him to Washington: "I need people who can help me," Trump said. "And this guy can really help me." Former Vice President Joe Biden was in town on Tuesday to stump for Lamb.

Meanwhile, a Willie Horton-esque attack ad in heavy rotation on local television has stoked racial animosity and paints Lamb as soft on crime. The ad charges that as a federal prosecutor Lamb cut a deal (cue sinister music over a hand cutting lines of coke) to give a black "drug kingpin" a light sentence. The Lamb camp countered with an ad featuring his old boss, former US Attorney David Hickton, who says, in essence, don't you believe it!

As for what is at stake in western Pennsylvania: Trump's announcement that he will impose tariffs on steel imports certainly plays well to that segment of the population who went for him in 2016 because ... what else is there to lose? The mills are mostly gone.

In the 18th district, the affluent suburban executives and employees who power Pittsburgh's booming Eds, Meds and Tech economy went for Hillary in a big way. Meanwhile, smaller towns in the sprawling district that were once solidly Democratic do not share in Pittsburgh's hip blend of craft brews, tapas joints and "bicycle culture," nor the bounty they represent. Instead, they are ravaged by opioid addiction, high unemployment and damaged pride.

Saccone is giddily all-in on tariffs. In their most recent debate, Lamb reluctantly supported tariffs aimed at "bad actors," like China, who dump cheap steel. Denouncing tariffs altogether in "Steelers Country" would be political suicide.

The farther east or west you go from the epicenter of the district map just south of downtown Pittsburgh, the more NRA stickers (both Saccone and Lamb oppose AR-15 and bump stock bans) you are likely to see. A gun-loving protectionist Democrat would be an anomaly in most districts, but in western Pennsylvania that's how what's left of the left rolls.

Many decaying mill towns in the Mon Valley were working men's paradises just a few decades ago, with good union jobs and high wages. The people who toiled in the mines and mills that once thrived here worked like dogs but they were rewarded with a slice of the pie; their children, not so much. Many of them are not terribly interested in identity politics or transgender rights or the fate of undocumented immigrants they believe pose a threat to what few economic opportunities might be left for them and their children.

At Saturday's rally, after Trump boasted about his outreach to North Korea, castigated Democrats as coddlers of vicious gangs and bashed the news media, Saccone finally got a word in edgewise.

In speaking for himself, he might just as well have been speaking for Trump's most fervid supporters in western Pennsylvania: "If President Trump's in your corner," Saccone said, "how can you lose?"

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 74328

Reported Deaths: 3041
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15860725
Lake7570275
Elkhart484384
Allen3902163
St. Joseph350081
Hamilton2763104
Vanderburgh196313
Hendricks1887108
Cass17959
Johnson1757118
Porter131639
Clark123347
Tippecanoe121111
Madison97965
LaPorte91130
Howard89065
Kosciusko85212
Bartholomew79347
Marshall78422
Floyd77946
Monroe75630
Delaware73052
Dubois69612
Boone67846
Noble67829
Hancock66038
Vigo65110
Jackson5865
Warrick58130
LaGrange55910
Shelby55327
Grant52630
Dearborn50828
Morgan47634
Clinton4343
Henry38320
Wayne37710
White36910
Montgomery35421
Lawrence34627
Harrison33823
Decatur33732
Putnam2888
Miami2742
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Scott26810
Greene25034
Jasper2432
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DeKalb2324
Gibson2254
Jennings22512
Steuben2103
Ripley2087
Carroll1912
Fayette1897
Perry18612
Starke1787
Orange17124
Posey1710
Wabash1693
Fulton1682
Wells1682
Jefferson1632
Knox1540
Whitley1526
Washington1401
Tipton13810
Spencer1363
Sullivan1261
Huntington1223
Randolph1224
Clay1215
Newton11810
Adams1012
Jay910
Owen901
Pulaski831
Rush804
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Brown731
Ohio655
Blackford642
Benton610
Pike530
Switzerland520
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Parke511
Crawford450
Martin450
Union410
Warren221
Unassigned0206

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 100848

Reported Deaths: 3669
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin18317524
Cuyahoga13514499
Hamilton9643255
Lucas5348323
Montgomery436294
Summit3555222
Butler292963
Marion292545
Mahoning2554255
Pickaway238742
Stark1827139
Warren178939
Lorain177078
Columbiana165860
Trumbull1524106
Fairfield138732
Delaware130119
Licking128149
Clark114614
Lake111438
Wood104358
Clermont93311
Medina92335
Miami83938
Tuscarawas78214
Portage75861
Allen74044
Greene69012
Belmont62126
Mercer61213
Richland60412
Erie57527
Ashtabula56946
Geauga55644
Wayne53958
Ross4844
Huron3965
Darke39529
Ottawa38626
Hancock3783
Sandusky37716
Madison37410
Athens3571
Holmes3286
Lawrence2830
Auglaize2546
Union2511
Muskingum2361
Jefferson2292
Scioto2261
Seneca2143
Knox2057
Putnam20517
Preble2032
Washington20322
Shelby1944
Coshocton1936
Champaign1762
Crawford1745
Morrow1702
Hardin16512
Clinton1646
Highland1581
Logan1552
Fulton1481
Wyandot1468
Ashland1443
Defiance1444
Williams1353
Perry1303
Brown1292
Hocking1189
Guernsey1177
Henry1172
Fayette1130
Carroll1115
Monroe9318
Pike760
Jackson740
Van Wert711
Paulding690
Gallia651
Adams612
Meigs400
Vinton312
Harrison261
Morgan260
Noble160
Unassigned00
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