Rick Saccone and national Republicans have gone into battle mode to salvage victory in the still too-close-to-call special election in western Pennsylvania that has national implications.
The race in District 18 has not officially been called for either Saccone or Democrat Conor Lamb, but Republicans already are mounting legal challenges, threatening to sue over voting irregularities while demanding that voting machines be impounded.
Lamb, leading by a few hundred votes, declared himself the winner late Tuesday.
"We are absolutely not conceding," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Matt Gorman said Wednesday. "We're not ruling out a recount or any other further legal action."
Republicans are challenging the results over a litany of issues, from reported miscalibrations of voting machines, to voters being confused about where — or if — they were supposed to vote, given new district lines, to GOP officials not being allowed to witness the counting of absentee ballots in one county.
Republicans are red-faced enough about an election that shouldn't have been this close in a dead-red district won by President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016, but an eventual loss - especially with the millions poured in to support Saccone - could portend more headwinds heading into November's midterms.
"I think most Republicans realize we're running into a very serious headwind … hurricane-force wind," retiring Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., said Wednesday.
However, House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed reading anything into District 18, saying Lamb got away with running as a Republican without a primary challenger to draw him more to the left.
"Both of these candidates ran as conservatives, I don't think you are going to see that throughout the country," Ryan said Wednesday.
Further, Republicans have kvetched since the jump about the candidacy of Saccone, who even Trump reportedly denigrated privately, according to Axios.
"This is a very tough environment for Republicans. To be successful, we need good candidates who run strong campaigns," Corry Bliss, executive director of Congressional Leadership Fund, told the Washington Examiner.
"It's not nice to say this, but the Saccone campaign was a joke. The way this is supposed to work, the campaign gets to the 20-yard line, and we can help get them to the end zone, but in this case, the campaign couldn't find the field."
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