Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, south of Pittsburgh in the Keystone State's southwest corner, can safely be described as a Republican stronghold. John McCain won here by 11 points in his presidential campaign in 2008; Mitt Romney fared even better four years later, winning by 17 points; and Donald Trump carried the district by a 20-point margin.
The area's former congressman, Republican Tim Murphy, ran unopposed in the last two election cycles -- because no local Democrats saw any point in going up against him.
With this recent history in mind, it was a bit jarring to see this Politico piece yesterday.
The chairman of Pennsylvania's Republican Party said Monday the special election in which Democrat Conor Lamb is running neck-and-neck with Republican Rick Saccone is in a "Democrat district," even though it was represented by a Republican for more than a decade and President Donald Trump won it handily in 2016.
"The other reason it's so tight is, you have to remember, this is a Democrat district, notwithstanding the fact that the president won this by 20 points," Pennsylvania GOP chairman Val DiGiorgio told Fox News on Monday.
Putting aside grammatical concerns -- I'll assume the state GOP chairman meant "Democratic" district -- it's a tough sell.
That said, there's no great mystery as to why Republicans are saying things like this. When Tim Murphy resigned in the wake of a sex scandal, GOP officials assumed the seat would remain in Republican hands. But the more Conor Lamb (D) proved to be an excellent candidate, and the more Rick Saccone proved to be an inept candidate, the more competitive the race became, to an extent few expected.
In fact, a Monmouth University poll released yesterday showed Lamb with a modest lead.
The result has been an awkward dynamic: Republican officials are pulling out all the stops, investing an enormous amount of resources in this decidedly "red" district, while simultaneously trying to lower expectations, trashing Saccone's skills as a candidate, and preparing for the possibility of defeat.
Indeed, the pressure seems to be getting to Saccone: at his final pre-election rally last night, the Republican told supporters that "the other side" hates the United States and God. Confident candidates don't usually fly off the handle like this.
So, why should voters outside of Southwest Pennsylvania care?