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Voters divided ahead of Pennsylvania election

Voters prepare to head to the polls in a special election for Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional district. CNN's Alex Marquardt reports.

Posted: Mar 14, 2018 5:32 AM
Updated: Mar 14, 2018 5:34 AM

For years, political pundits have worried about how big money could drown out voters' voices. Now, big money is so plentiful that it drowns out the voices of candidates, too.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Pennsylvania's 18th District, where Republican Rick Saccone will take on Democrat Conor Lamb in Tuesday's special election to replace former incumbent Tim Murphy.

The highly gerrymandered 18th District, an "r" shape with tentacles that wrap around most of the city of Pittsburgh, is the latest battleground that pits millions of dollars from outside the district in an election that has little to do with the candidates and even less to do with the concerns of voters. Rather, the district has become a magnet for major donors who see special elections as a harbinger for what is to come in the midterm congressional election.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Saccone has spent about $614,000, while Lamb has spent about $3.06 million. OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan research group that tracks campaign contributions, notes that virtually none of this money has been raised inside the district.

But all this money is dwarfed by the more than $12.5 million funneled into the district from sources not connected to either candidate. And while Lamb has outpaced Saccone in individual fundraising efforts, pro-Saccone forces have poured in far more money than pro-Lamb forces.

Outside conservative organizations have given over $8 million to pay for anti-Lamb coverage, including negative ads attempting to tie him to Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi is so unpopular in the district that Lamb has pledged to vote against her for House Speaker should the Democrats win the majority in November. And outside liberal organizations have given over $1.5 million to anti-Saccone coverage, including ads painting Saccone as extravagant with taxpayer funds. One ad even hurls the phrase "Harrisburg politician" as an epithet.

The district has also attracted the attention of big names on both sides of the aisle. Pennsylvania-born former Vice President Joe Biden was in the district stumping for Lamb last week. President Donald Trump made his third visit to the district -- two of those visits during his own election campaign -- on Saturday, when he told the crowd, "Personally, I like Rick Saccone. I think he's handsome," and calling Saccone's opponent "Lamb the sham."

Our Constitution dictates that private citizens have a First Amendment right to say what they want about candidates, and the Supreme Court, in Citizens United, made clear that organizations (for profit and nonprofit) can spend as extravagantly as they choose to get that message out. But for those who want to exercise their First Amendment rights most effectively, they should use their money to drag down the candidate they don't like.

Why? The answer is negative partisanship, a phenomenon whereby Americans' dislike of their least preferred party, not esteem for their most preferred party, motivates them to go to the polls. A recent article by Alan I. Abramowitz and Steven Webster in the political science journal Electoral Studies shows that since 2008, negative feelings about the opposing party provide a better explanation for party loyalty than do positive feelings about one's own party.

And according to a recent Emerson College poll, about 56% of voters in the 18th District are "very excited" to vote in Tuesday's election. But this can't be attributed to excitement about the candidates or politicians. Despite having won the district by 20 points in 2016, Trump has an approval rating in the district of about 48%, reports the same poll. And neither Lamb nor Saccone break more than 50% approval either.

So even though both are highly qualified candidates, selected by their party leaders to appear on the ballot, it appears unlikely voters will be showing up in support of their respective candidates.

But remember, this isn't an election about the candidates. It is about the money. Our campaign finance laws dictate that candidates have legal limits on how much money they can accept: only $5,000 per political action committee per year. In contrast, outside organizations can spend an unlimited amount if they do not coordinate with the candidates themselves. These outside forces can buy their own ads, focusing on what's wrong with the other guy in an effort to get voters to turn out in support of their guy.

As is clear from the 18th District race, candidates can stick to the issues all they want, but the airwaves will remain filled with negative ads from outside sources. Candidates may have big ideas, but, to paraphrase Norma Desmond, it is the elections that have gotten small.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 33558

Reported Deaths: 2110
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9616571
Lake3538185
Cass15897
Allen145168
St. Joseph124834
Elkhart116328
Hendricks116171
Hamilton115693
Johnson1093108
Madison58559
Porter51627
Bartholomew50034
Clark49241
LaPorte42423
Howard39526
Tippecanoe3903
Jackson3791
Delaware37736
Shelby36822
Hancock32728
Floyd31839
Boone30935
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2652
Montgomery23517
White2318
Decatur22431
Clinton2231
Noble21121
Grant20621
Harrison19221
Dubois1923
Henry16910
Greene16824
Monroe16612
Warrick16628
Dearborn16621
Vigo1648
Lawrence15423
Miami1411
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Orange12522
Scott1193
Kosciusko1111
Franklin1098
Ripley1086
Carroll922
Marshall901
Daviess8516
Steuben812
Newton7710
Wayne776
Fayette767
Wabash762
LaGrange712
Jasper651
Washington521
Jay500
Fulton481
Clay471
Rush462
Randolph463
Pulaski460
Jefferson431
Whitley393
Starke363
Sullivan341
Owen341
Brown331
DeKalb331
Perry310
Benton300
Knox290
Wells280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Crawford240
Blackford242
Fountain202
Switzerland200
Spencer191
Parke170
Posey160
Gibson142
Adams131
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union80
Pike60
Unassigned0164

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34566

Reported Deaths: 2131
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin5674256
Cuyahoga4318226
Marion265728
Hamilton2603147
Lucas2202240
Pickaway205036
Mahoning1405173
Summit1380172
Butler86229
Columbiana73951
Stark71691
Lorain67259
Montgomery65117
Trumbull56248
Belmont41912
Warren35920
Miami35530
Tuscarawas3393
Ashtabula33034
Medina32823
Portage32257
Delaware32013
Lake30212
Wood28546
Geauga27732
Wayne26650
Fairfield2586
Clark2526
Licking23010
Allen21232
Clermont2065
Mercer2037
Richland1973
Erie16711
Darke16721
Madison1527
Washington11819
Crawford1104
Morrow1051
Greene1015
Ottawa9513
Putnam9014
Monroe7712
Sandusky7311
Auglaize713
Hocking694
Ross682
Jefferson672
Huron561
Williams541
Union511
Muskingum500
Hancock501
Hardin450
Clinton430
Fayette400
Shelby403
Wyandot392
Fulton390
Coshocton380
Logan370
Preble351
Guernsey340
Defiance332
Holmes321
Carroll303
Lawrence300
Brown281
Champaign271
Knox241
Highland231
Ashland200
Seneca202
Vinton192
Perry181
Athens181
Henry150
Scioto150
Paulding140
Jackson130
Harrison100
Adams91
Gallia71
Van Wert60
Meigs60
Pike60
Noble60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
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