UPDATE: After absentee, provisional, and military ballots were counted, Democrat Conor Lamb is being called the winner in his congressional race against Rick Saccone.
"The victory still may be contested, but Mr. Lamb’s 627-vote lead Wednesday afternoon appeared insurmountable, given that the four counties in Pennsylvania’s 18th district have about 500 provisional, military and other absentee ballots left to count," The New York Times reports. "That slim margin, out of almost 230,000 ballots cast, nonetheless upended the political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections and emboldened fellow Democrats to run maverick campaigns even in deep-red areas where Republicans remain bedeviled by [Donald] Trump’s unpopularity."
Republican candidate Rick Saccone was still not conceding defeat, and party officials didn't rule out the possibility of demanding a recount.
EARLIER: Democrat Conor Lamb declaired victory in the special election in in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District about 1 a.m. Wednesday, even though most news organizations still considered his race against Republican Rick Saccone too close to call.
"It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it. You did it," Lamb told supporters at his election night party in Canonsburg, where he was introduced as "congressman-elect," The Hill reports.
Lamb was leading Saccone 49.8 percent to 49.6 percent, with a margin of 579 votes, with all precincts reporting, according to Politico. However, thousands of absentee ballots were yet to be counted.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also declared victory, but the Saccone and the National Republican Congressional Committee were not conceding.The NRCC is "ready to ensure that every legal vote is counted," spokesman Matt Gorman told Politico. "Once they are, we’re confident Rick Saccone will be the newest Republican member of Congress."
But if Lamb's lead holds, it would be an important Democratic victory in a deep-red district western Pennsylvania, including some suburbs of Pittsburgh, where Donald Trump bested Hillary Clinton by 58 percent to 39 percent in the 2016 presidential election. Mitt Romney carried the district by a similar margin, notes FiveThirtyEight.com, and in 2014 and 2016, no Democrat even ran against Republican congressman Tim Murphy.
Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and veteran of the Marine Corps, is conservative, as Democrats go — he “is personally opposed to abortion, not in favor of a ban on assault rifles, and has stated that he wouldn’t support Nancy Pelosi as the Democrats’ House leader,” Fortune reports.
His legislative priorities, according to his campaign website, “include taking immediate action to fight the heroin crisis, creating and protecting good jobs, making health care more affordable, protecting Medicare and Social Security, and reforming our broken student loan system.”
Saccone, however, is much farther to the right. He once boasted that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump.” At a rally this week, he accused his opponents of hating not only Trump but God and America. He has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, several anti-abortion groups, and such conservative groups as Citizens United and the Club for Growth. He has served four terms as a Pennsylvania state representative.
The seat became vacant when Tim Murphy resigned after it was revealed he had urged a woman with whom he’d had an extramarital affair to have an abortion — even though Murphy, a Republican, was a longtime opponent of abortion rights. He announced his resignation October 5, the day after saying he’d serve until the end of his term but then retire.
The race was important for Democrats trying to chip away at the Republicans’ House majority, but the winner will have to run again in November, and likely in a different district. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has redrawn the state’s congressional district boundaries, as the court found the previous district map to be gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. However, Republican lawmakers are arguing in federal court that the state court usurped the legislature’s power in changing the districts.