Tuesday’s special election, which is being held in a district President Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points, has emerged as the latest testing ground of whether Republicans are headed for a midterm bloodbath. A loss would be wholly embarrassing, many Republicans privately acknowledge, given that it would take place in a state that Trump made a cornerstone of his 2016 victory. And the themes that the GOP has highlighted in the special election — namely tax cuts and opposition to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — are the centerpieces of the party’s 2018 campaign plan.
But as election day grows closer, the national GOP is increasingly pinning the blame on Saccone. In interviews with nearly two dozen administration officials, senior House Republicans and top party strategists, Saccone was nearly universally panned as a deeply underwhelming candidate who leaned excessively on the national party to execute a massive, multimillion-dollar rescue effort. It was complete with visits from the president, vice president and several Cabinet members.
They describe a candidate who largely ignored pleas to raise the money he needed, who blindsided the White House and the national party with his choice of a political strategist, and whose amateur-style social media feed included low-quality videos of him at a local bar and yukking it up with Santa. To make matters worse, Saccone is up against a Democratic rival the party could hardly have engineered had it tried: Conor Lamb, an Ivy League-educated 33-year-old Marine veteran and former federal prosecutor.
Lamb has used a nearly $4 million war chest to cast himself as independent of his party, airing slickly produced TV ads underscoring his aversion to Pelosi and his fondness for shooting machine guns. He has a campaign staff of 16 full-time employees, compared with just four for Saccone.
“Candidate quality matters, and when one candidate outraises the other 5-to-1, that creates real challenges for outside groups trying to win a race,” said Corry Bliss, who oversees the principal House GOP-aligned super PAC, which has conducted an expansive TV and field deployment effort aimed at pushing Saccone over the top.
Now, I know why this story was written ahead of Tuesday's contest, if Saccone loses, the story establishes clearly that the blame is on him and him alone, he's a bad candidate, the GOP itself is "fine". You know, just like Roy Moore's loss in Alabama.
But if Saccone survives, it will be because national Republicans -- and Trump's campaign stop on Saturday -- saved him. Heads Trump is off the hook for "sad loser" Saccone's loss, tails, Trump is a genius for rescuing his campaign.
Now, you don't do this unless there's a good chance that you're going to lose, it's too cynical and self-defeating otherwise. But this is a district that Trump won by 20 points less than 18 months ago. There's no way it should be close at all.
Trump's already lost, and he knows it.