High profile Republicans — including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — have rallied around State Rep. Rick Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran, to help shore up his bid to win the House seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District special election.
It is a contest that is seen as a bellwether for the 2018 midterms and the latest referendum on the political impact of Trump’s presidency. So far, some polls show the race within 5 points in a district that Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016.
For his part, Saccone has grasped tightly onto Trump’s agenda, campaigning on the slogan “defending the taxpayer” and thrown his support behind Republican tax reform and cuts, border security and repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Trump joined Saccone on the trail on Saturday in a final push ahead of Tuesday’s special election, calling on Pennsylvanians to elect the candidate who will keep “the agenda ‘Make America Great’ going.”
“I could not have asked for a stronger endorsement of our campaign ahead of the March 13 special election,” Saccone said after Saturday’s rally.
However, the GOP candidate has faced an uphill battle on fundraising and his opponent, Democrat Conor Lamb, has far out-raised him and left him reliant on outside spending to combat the money gap.
Here’s a rundown of Saccone’s political history and unexpectedly tough campaign in the battleground state that delivered Trump the presidency.
An unusual resume
Saccone is pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-Trump conservative whose support for the GOP tax cuts, strengthening the military, and increasing border security closely with the president’s views. He once even called himself “Trump before Trump was Trump.”
However, when it comes to campaigning, Saccone diverges with Trump’s successful strategy of running as an outsider, instead boasting of his decades of experience in Pennsylvania politics.
While the GOP candidate underscores his record in the state legislature, he also brings a wide-ranging resume to national politics.
The four-term state representative served in the United States Air Force as a special agent and is a former diplomatic representative in North Korea during President George W. Bush’s adminsitration.
Pete Marovich/Getty ImagesRepublican Pennsylvania congressional candidate Rick Saccone and Vice President Mike Pence acknowledge the audience during a campaign event on Feb. 2, 2018, in Bethel Park, Penn.
Saccone worked as a television news anchor in South Korea, earned a doctorate in international affairs, and worked as a college political science professor. He is also the author of nine books.
The money race
Saccone’s greatest obstacle during this race – and the primary reason he’s facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from Lamb – is his opponent’s fundraising powerhouse.
In the first two months of 2018, Lamb hauled in $3.33 million, compared to Saccone’s $917,892, according to each campaign’s Federal Election Commission filings.
Saccone has largely relied on super PACs and outside groups to support his run – bringing in nearly $10.3 million in total outside spending as of March 1.
Running on a Trump agenda in Trump Country
Saccone is a staunch ally of the president, campaigning on the priorities and agenda of the Trump administration, and pledging himself to be a “wingman” for Trump if elected.
Running on what he says are the “issues that President Trump has nationalized, the agenda that people have voted in,” Saccone is determined to cut taxes, cut government spending and reduce government regulation. He claims he was “Trump before Trump” since “most of those issues, I ran on in 2010.”
In January, Trump touted his support for Saccone, tweeting, “Rick is a great guy.”
Trump and Saccone shared the stage on Saturday at the “Make America Great Again” rally in the Pittsburgh area to deliver the final push to bring Pennsylvania Republican over the finish line before the special election.
Antonella Crescimbeni/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via APRick Saccone, Republican candidate for the 18th Congressional District, speaks before his supporters during a campaign rally with Greene County coal miners on March 5, 2018, in Waynesburg, Pa.
“The president’s support is key to attaining victory on March 13,” Saccone said in his speech before Trump took the stage at a campaign rally over the weekend. “There’s no one I’d rather have in my corner than President Trump.”
Trump briefly mentioned his support for Saccone in his 75-minute stump speech, telling Pennsylvanians to “elect people that are going to back our agenda and fight for our values.”
“We need him,” Trump said. “We need Republicans. We need the votes. Otherwise they’re going to take away your taxes, your tax cuts, they’re going to take away your Second Amendment rights.”
And Saccone has tied the election right back to Trump.
“I hope [voters] judge it on the merits of my background and experience and qualifications,” Trump told ABC News’ Nightline last month. “But if it’s a referendum on Trump, this is Trump country.”