IRWIN, Pa. – Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone, who lost in a bitter matchup against Democrat Conor Lamb for a congressional seat earlier this year, is desperately fighting for a chance at redemption.
Saccone, who lost the 18th district seat after a contested race, is running for the 14th district, a district that was redrawn after a court order. His district now heavily favors Republicans and political experts believe Saccone has a strong chance at winning the high-stakes race on Tuesday.
“[The 14th district is] a much stronger district for a person like me with conservative values because I represent the values of this district, and it’s much more conservative than the 18th was,” Saccone told Fox News in his car as his wife drove him to a campaigning event.
Lamb is running unopposed in his race and will face Republican Keith Rothfus in November’s general election.
Tuesday will be the first election in the state after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s congressional map. The court altered the map after ruling the district lines unconstitutionally favored Republicans. Democrats are hoping to pick up congressional seats after the ruling.
But experts believe the redrawn 14th district is one that could flip to favor Republicans.
"It’s more Republican than it was during the special election,” University of Pittsburgh Political Science Professor Kristin Kanthak told Fox News. “It’s not clear how much more Republican and we won’t really know until after the election."
Saccone, whose campaign was backed by President Trump in a district that heavily favored the president, is not the only Republican looking for a second chance. His opponent, State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills, Penn., lost the primary to Saccone during a special election earlier this year. Reschenthaler is convinced he can beat Saccone this time around.
"We cannot allow ourselves to nominate another candidate who has proven to have lost a safe Republican seat,” Reschenthaler said of Saccone.
Besides, he told Fox News, last time Saccone didn’t actually beat him because the nomination was decided by the county’s Republican Party, which he said was not an accurate representation of the electorate. Now that he gets to compete for actual votes, he said, it’s going to be different.
"We are running in the public eye,” Reschenthaler said. "This isn't something that’s going to be done behind closed doors with party insiders.”
Reschenthaler said his goal is not only to beat Saccone, but to save the party from a Democrat threat, he said.
"We’re seeing a blue wave coming, and the Democrats are now emboldened after the loss of the special election that we had here,” Reschentaler said on his way to meet up with veterans recently. "Their fundraising is just running on all eight cylinders."
But Kanthak, the professor, said the Republican candidates could be hurt by a bruising primary. Saccone and Reschenthaler have attacked each other and spent thousands of dollars on opposition research.
“We would expect Democrats to spend some money on finding out dirt about these candidates but now they don’t have to spend that money,” she said.
The Democratic primary race is also competitive. It’s a four-way race among four political newcomers – Bibiana Boerio, a former auto executive, Tom Prigg, a neuroscience researcher, Adam Sedlock, a psychologist and Robert Solomon, a doctor. None of them has held political office.
Experts say the Republican primary has more at stake since the winner will likely clinch the congressional seat during the general election.
And that has made for a heated Republican primary.
"The president himself said Saccone is a weak candidate.” Reschenthaler said." Those are the words of the president.”
Saccone fired back, telling Fox News his opponent was citing a liberal news outlet with flimsy anonymous sources.
Saccone said he’s stayed above the fray.
"I haven’t done any negative ads,” Saccone told Fox News. "But my opponent has continuously ran these false negative ads against me. I think it’s going to backfire on him. I think people are tired of that because that’s what they tell me.”
Saccone believes if he wins, he can easily win over Reschenthaler supporters after Tuesday’s primary.
“I’m confident that will unite the party after the primary,” Saccone said, “and will make it all the way across the finish line.”