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Dems Looking to Flip House Seat Tonight in Key Race; Absentee and Provisional Ballots Arrived At Election Center; Candidates Neck and Neck in Pennsylvania House Race. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. We're following the Special Election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. Let's see another Key Race Alert. Take a look at this, the Democrat, Conor Lamb maintaining a significant lead. 16 percent of the vote is now in. Conor Lamb has 58.7 percent. Rick Saccone, the Republican has 40 percent. Conor Lamb ahead by more than 5,000 votes right now. This is a significant race.

Let's go over to John King, who is watching all these counties in Pennsylvania very, very closely right now. And the President as I like to say, he was just there over the weekend campaigning for Rick Saccone.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if you're in Saccone headquarters, you're getting a bit nervous right now. You don't need to panic yet, but 16 percent reporting, Conor Lamb 59 percent. If you round that up to 41 percent, if you round that up, that is throughout the district about two-thirds of the vote counted so far. Roughly coming from Allegheny County, it's the most Democratic area of the district.

And in that county the piece of the county that's in the district, Allegheny County stretches way up here. But in the slice of it that's in the 18th Congressional District here, Conor Lamb running up a pretty impressive margin 60 percent to 39 percent. His campaign I think that they keep that above 55. They're in play to win the district.

So far he's doing what he needs to do. This is 42 percent roughly of the voting aides -- the voters in the district. It's the biggest slice of the voters right there. So if you're in the Lamb campaign, that's your most important number. Stay about 55 now in Allegheny County.

This if you're in the Saccone campaign is troublesome. This should be red. Now we're only at eight percent in Washington County but 53/48. Just for comparison go back to the Presidential race, Hillary Clinton got only 34 percent, 35 if you round that up in this country, again 35 percent for Secretary Clinton. Conor Lamb at the moment only eight percent at the moment in the lead there, so he's running competitive overperforming Clinton if you will in a Republican County. This is the big question mark though Westmoreland County is a Republican county. This piece of Westmoreland County in the district is about 34 percent of the registered voters in the district. We have nothing yet. Nothing yet, they traditionally come in a little later than the rest of the district.

If you're in Saccone headquarters, we need just to -- when they do come in, you need it to be red and you need your margin here to be similar to the Conor Lamb margin here. He's at 60/40 if you round the numbers there, Rick Saccone needs at least that here as these numbers coming here as we count the votes, I just want to come back fully to the district now. We're almost at 20 percent of the vote counted again.

The bulk of what we have is from in here. Rick Saccone is leading down here in Green County but we're at 45 percent already. Very small. Only get a few thousand votes out of here. It's much less populated than the other counties in the district. So this is a margin.

But again, even there for Conor Lamb it's about the margins. You know, you're going to loss Greene County, not a lot of votes but Hillary Clinton got 27 percent. Conor Lamb is getting more than 10 points higher than that. If you're in the Lamb campaign, you're satisfied with that.

That is you're going to cut the margins here. This is a surprise at the moment. If this stays blue, this race is over, but only at eight percent so far Washington County. And again, this is the biggest basket of votes, biggest basket of Democratic votes, also suburban votes here. First votes just came in from Westmoreland, a big drop, 27 percent. Rick Saccone 54/45 that's it, he's leading here. That's good for him. But I just want to show you something. President Trump 65 percent to 31 percent.

So if you look at the Presidential race, turnout will be nowhere near the Presidential race. This is a med term election. It's an off year special election but if you think about it, President Trump won the district by 20 points by running up a very big margin here in Westmoreland. And at moment in this race Rick Saccone well below.

Underperforming the President here significantly underperforming the President here, again, Conor Lamb with 58 percent here, the most surprising part of this race, this district in 2016 was -- again, in this slice of Allegheny County that is part of the district, Donald Trump actually beat Hillary Clinton. In this slice, she won the county but he won the part that's in the 18th District by four points. So as we continue to count the votes tonight, we bring the district up full. We're up to 30 percent. Conor Lamb 53 percent there. I just want to check this again, still above 55 in Allegheny County. So if you're getting a little tighter but if you're in the Lamb campaign, you like the margins so far, and you're waiting to see more of the votes coming and you're waiting to se if this stays blue.

BLITZER: And we're -- once again, almost a third of the vote is now in. Let's go over to Jake and Dana. You know, Jake, the President was just there campaigning. If the Democrats do win this Special Election in Pennsylvania tonight, they're going to be encouraged to believe, you know what, they might be able to win a whole bunch of other congressional seats in November and become the house majority.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's exactly right. And of course Republicans outspent the Democrats by more than two to one for this congressional seat in a very Republican district. So one imagines even though the results are not fully in and we don't know who's going to win, so far it looks good for the Democrat.

And I wonder if Republicans are worrying our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is tracking reaction to the race on Capitol Hill. And Manu, what are you hearing? I've got to believe that Republicans already kind of jittery and worrying about a so-called blue wave are not reassured by what they're seeing on their T.V. screens this evening?

[21:05:09] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. No question about it, Jake. They're very nervous about this midterm environment. They're seeing Trump's poor numbers. They're seeing what's happening here in Pennsylvania 18. And they're also nervous that they've not been able to effectively sell their new tax law because of the daily chaos that seems to be coming out of Washington.

Now tomorrow, I'm hearing that behind closed doors Republican leaders in the House will have a briefing with their members of the House Republican conference to layout the real challenges and opportunities that present themselves ahead of the midterm elections.

They'll take a lot of questions, Steve Stivers, who is the chairman of National Republican Congressional Committee, which oversees this effort. He's going to take questions from House Republicans about what went wrong here, assuming that they do lose this seat tonight, as well as how they can keep potentially keep their majority. Republicans fear that these prospects of them holding on to power can grow increasingly slim.

And one thing, Jake, that we're going to be looking out for to, is any possible further retirements? That's one thing that's hobbling the Republican chances of holding the majority. Right now Republican officials are not expecting a wave of retirements, but there could be a couple others and one reason why tomorrow is so important to make it clear they could still win, but they need to do things a little better and sell their message more effectively. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Ruju.

And Dana, one of the things Republicans have been talking a lot about, two weeks ago, three weeks ago was how much the President's tax cut bill was going to help Rick Saccone. But anecdotally until this, they stopped talking as much about the tax cut and started more just attacking Conor Lamb, the Democrat.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that's right. They stopped about it and started running ads on it. I was just communicating with a Republican, who insisted the reason for that is because they felt they realized it was too late to have an effective message on taxes because there were other issues that Conor Lamb was already winning on, which is why they turn, frankly negative against Conor Lamb.

You know, unclear how much that played a role. But just to sort of bounce off of what Manu was just reporting that the Chairman of the Republican -- of the campaign arm that elects House candidates is going to talk to all House Republicans tomorrow, my understanding is that the message he is going to send is campaigns matter and candidates matter, which seems so basic.

And, you know, if you're watching at home you say of course they do. But this is -- they hope on the Republican side, assuming it goes the way they think it will which is that they will lose this seat, a wake up call for candidates to really start to focus more aggressively on their campaigns. Because this Democratic resistance is real, is real enough for a district where Donald Trump won by 20 points to look like it's going to go to a Democratic seat.

TAPPER: And of course that message of course implicitly is an insult to the Republican in the race, Anderson Cooper, but we already heard at the end of the last week that people close to President Trump reported that he was bad mouthing Rick Saccone, the Republican likely an expectation of not such a great night for the Republicans this evening.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. We're going to have more on that. Let's check the numbers right now. I think 35 percent of the vote in, 5,694. Conor Lamb is ahead by.

David Chalian, you were talking about this during the break that this isn't just about these two candidates.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. There is no doubt. As Dana was saying and every Republican who talked to, Jason, until he's blue in the face tonight that this is all about one candidate and an underperforming candidate. That ignores the larger environment that we're in.

And this will not be breaking news to any Republican. They know they're in a tough environment. But we shouldn't lose sight that this is part of that very tough environment. We didn't see five House special elections last year throughout the whole year with Democratic over performance like we did not see in years or ever in some of these places.

Obviously, New Jersey is a Democratic state, but New Jersey and Virginia governor's race, the Alabama Special which had unique circumstances. You can put the caveat in wherever you want. But if you deny what this is part of, why tonight is so big, why Republicans went all in for more than $10 million in this race, it is because it is so indicative of that larger story of the head winds, massive head winds that Republicans are facing this year. And we just shouldn't lose sight to that as we talk about this individual race. GLORIA BORGER, CNN'S CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYS: And that is why you see the President has -- he is talking to others and understanding that this is an uphill battle privately distancing himself from the Republican candidate because he does that if he thinks the guy's going to lose and he doesn't want it to have anything to do with these anti- Trump headwinds that David is talking about.

So he wants to make it a micro matter when in fact it's a macro matter. And it's larger than that. And you can look at the Virginia gubernatorial race. You can see there again, they had candidate that match the state, they did very well. And this is an issue for Donald Trump. And I think we'll see it over and over again, which is Democrats are overperforming because of enthusiasm.

[21:10:20] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Two observations if I can. First, maybe a little levity, phones were ringing all across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the voter registration offices because there were so many ads, and there were so much blame through all the cable outlets, including ours, all across the state, that people were calling up dumbfounded as to why their polling places weren't open. They didn't realize this was an election only in the 18th Congressional District. The good news for Pennsylvania is those folks were not allowed to vote.

The other observation that I would make is that I think this vote is going to come quickly. Maybe I'm mistaken. But remember, there's one thing on the ballot. There is one issue to count and that's it. So I would expect that once this begins to really roll, perhaps within the next 45 minutes, we're going to see something decisive. Famous last words.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I mean, if you think about what David's talking about, the sort of overarching kind of narrative and chaos that we see out of the White House and how that's affecting voters and you look at the data, Trump is losing support among the groups we talked about. Suburban white women, this is a district that's emblematic of that. We've seen that in Virginia. We saw it in Alabama. We'll see again how Saccone does with union voters. And you see independents, right? I mean, he did well with independents. He had the sort of outsider view, but it looks like he's losing some support among those key groups. And he might not able to keep that coalition.

BORGER: But to Joe's point --

COOPER: By the way, 38 percent of vote now and 3600 voters ahead.

BORGER: To Joe's and I think this was your point, will we see tonight potentially that he's not only losing support with his voters but with his base.


BORGER: And that's key here. I think that's sort of the important thing you look at which is that he's not impenetrable --

TRIPPI: Look, Saccone has picked up in some of these precincts he may actually he could conceivably go ahead and win this by a point.

BORGER: Right.

TRIPPI: But the reality is this was a district Trump won by 20 points. There are 23, 24 districts where Hillary Clinton won and there's a Republican member.

BORGER: Right.

TRIPPI: This isn't good for those people, to those Republican incumbents. There are a whole bunch of districts in this country that Trump won by five points. If you're a Republican, this isn't good for you in your running.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hold on. You look at the U.S. Senate. If the election were today, you would have five sitting Democratic U.S. senators who would get bounced. The fact of the matter is the Republicans in this special election House race are trying to push a car uphill --

TRIPPI: And Alabama won by 29 and -- 28 points and he lost that too. I'm not making any predictions for House or Senate. I'm saying no matter how you look at it, no matter what the results are, even when -- if Saccone does go ahead slightly here at the end of the poll is out, it's really, really bad news.

COOPER: Santorum and then we got to go.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: OK. I agree with both of you. I mean it's both. I mean, the reality is Conor Lamb, there are going to be a lot more Conor Lambs on the ballot because Democrats are energized, more candidate are running and better candidates are running. Why? Because it's a midterm Presidential election. It's always a bad election for the party in power and we have a President that's a very polarizing President. That reminds me a lot of 2010. I mean, that what we have at Barack Obama. That's not saying any bad about Democrats aren't going to condemn Barack Obama for being a bad President because he stood up for what he believed in, and talk what believe in. He was very controversial. So be it. But there are consequences. And the consequences are you get better candidates on the other side and you get more energy on the other side and it makes these races tighter.

Rick Saccone can still pull this race off. It's going to be tough, but he can still pull the race off. But the bottom line it's candidates and --

COOPER: It seems right now, the percentage is jumping about two percent at each clip it's at 40 percent now, some 7,300 votes Conor Lamb in the lead. We're going to take a short break. We're watching votes come in from Pennsylvania. The question is will Democratic enthusiasm be enough to pull off an upset in a deep red district? More on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:17:54] BLITZER: Welcome back. We're covering the Special Election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. Another Key Race Alert right now, almost half of the vote has now been counted, about 47 percent. Conor Lamb, the Democrat, maintaining his advantage over Rick Saccone, the Republican, 53.8 percent to 45.6 percent. He's got a 7,600 lead right now, Conor Lamb, the Democrat, over Rick Saccone.

Let's go over to John King at the Magic Wall. He's doing really wall, Conor Lamb, just south of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, where almost half of the vote, projected vote resides.

KING: More than 40 percent of the vote will come out of here. Depending on turnout that could go a little higher. You're right, again this is the district wide right now, it's 7,600 vote lead, 7550 almost up to half the vote.

Let's just go through what we have as you mentioned. This is the most important slice of the district is right here. It's the Pittsburgh suburbs. The southern part of Allegheny County, 57 percent to 42 percent right now, both campaigns will tell you Conor Lamb has to be above 55 percent or above in this district to compete. Then the turnout could come into play. If Saccone performs out the race, but right now, that's about --

BLITZER: And in Allegheny County, 68 percent of the vote has been counted.

KING: So that's part of the question. We have 30 percent, give or take still to come in. Does Conor Lamb keep that margin, number one, stay above 55? And, number two, where's the turnout, more populated precincts? Smaller precincts? What's happens to the math? The basic number to run up this margin.

He needs to run up the margin because you're starting to see Rick Saccone, this is more Republican. This is the part of Westmoreland County that's in the 18th District, 56 to 44 if you roundup, most people in the district will tell you Saccone probably has to hit 60 in this part of the district to get up. But this has changed a bit. He's performing -- it's red and what should be red, I would argue, 53 percent as more comes in for Saccone to tighten the race. He has to get that up, 57.

BLITZER: About a third of the vote is in Westmoreland.

KING: Right. That's why you got 40 -- a little more than 40 percent here about 34 percent here. This is a big basket of should-be Republican votes. If Conor Lamb-- just to go back and show you again, Presidential years are not midterm years in terms of turnout. But in terms of a performance of the district, Hillary Clinton got only 31 percent and some change in this county. Conor Lamb at the moment is getting 43 percent. In a close race, margins matter. So he's overperforming the Presidential candidate if you will.

[21:20:08] BLITZER: Take a look at this, 53 percent of the vote is now in. KING: That's in that county.


KING: That's in that county. So now you're up to 56 percent in the district.

BLITZER: 56 percent of the district there's a whole --

KING: The lead's gone down a little bit. The lead has gone down from 7,500 to 5,100 right here. And so what's happening, we're getting more votes from these more rural, more Republican counties, Washington County here. They're splitting this county. Again, if this holds up as we get the two-thirds that are missing, then Conor Lamb's going to win this race.

Rick Saccone has to win the Washington County part of this district by more than a few votes, so without a doubt. Down here, Greene County, not to minimize Greene County, but it's a small, much of more rural, much less populated. If we're in a race an hour or now, two hours from now it's 200 or 300 votes, then the fact that Conor Lamb got over 40 percent if that holds down could be significant part in the end. But there are just fewer votes down here.

BLITZER: Only two percent of the vote.

KING: Only two percent of the vote. So if it's very close, we'll come down here. No offense to the people of Greene County. This is what matters most and up to 72 percent now. So the most Democratic part of the district, and the place where the Lamb campaign thinks they can get suburban Republicans who, as I mentioned earlier, places like New Jersey, the Alabama Senate Race, suburban Republicans who cast an anti-Trump vote if you will by voting for a Democrat.

This is where most of them are. Conor Lamb needs to stay above 55. We're up to 72 percent of the vote. Let's see if he holds that margin as it comes in. I just want to check again, 53 percent here. Rick Saccone needs to boost that as the rest of that vote comes in, and then over here again, 33 percent in Washington County, which is 21, 22 percent of the vote in the district here, only a third of the vote in here. If it stays like this, at least Conor Lamb in a good position to eke out a victory, Rick Saccone needs to get that above 50 probably closer to 60.

Again, just for a little bit of contrast here, President Trump gets 61 percent in this county. The Republican candidate tonight right now is just at 50 percent. Come over to this other big Republican county, Rick Saccone's at 56 percent if you round that up. President Trump was at 65 percent.

So, again, you're not going to get the turnout numbers in a non- Presidential year. But in terms of the percentages, Rick Saccone has to get pretty close to where the President was. And if you're looking at it right now, 58 percent. Votes are starting to come in fast as Michael Smerconish predicted. Maybe he knows the number well. About to start coming quickly here, Conor Lamb holding on because of this, the lead in Allegheny County, which is up to 72 percent, 10,000 votes. That's the different right now.

BLITZER: I suspect we're going to get a lot more votes in the coming minutes. We're going to continue our special coverage on this important Congressional Special Election right after this.


[21:26:36] COOPER: And welcome back. We are counting the votes 60 percent of the votes in, Conor Lamb ahead by 7,300 votes, again, 52 percent of 46 percent Conor Lamb ahead of Rick Saccone.

Joe Biden -- we talked about President Trump visiting. Joe Biden came to campaign for Conor Lamb as well.

CHALIAN: Yes, you know, it's interesting because -- yes, Joe Kennedy III and Martin O'Malley were in there early on as well. But when you got to the end here, there was only one prominent national Democrat that the Lamb campaign thought would be a good idea to bring in. And this goes to Rick's point earlier tonight.

You can't run in this district, I think you said, as a Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama Democrat. You didn't mention Joe Biden when you were listing the Democrats you can't run as. And Conor Lamb knew that. And so this is going to become, if indeed he wins tonight -- by the way, we're looking at a six-point lead for the Democrat in a district Donald Trump won by 20 points. So this is a pretty astonishing number that we're looking at right now.

Joe Biden is going to be part of this larger conversation about the path forward for the Democratic Party out of here of any potential lessons learned here. He's -- if indeed he wants to put it all together and try to pursue the presidency in 2020, he's going to make the argument, I'm the guy that can go to the places that Donald Trump had some success in and talk to those voters and try to bring them back into the Democratic fold. And tonight's result may give him some evidence for that argument.

COOPER: But Senator Santorum, you made the point early on that Conor Lamb, had he had a primary, he may not have been able to win on a Democratic primary?

SANTORUM: I think the days of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party are over. I mean, you know, blue collar Joe isn't going to win a primary with California, New York. And I mean it just -- the votes aren't there.

SMERCONISH: That argument is --


SMERCONISH: -- the same way I think against Republican candidates. I mean, think of Governor Castle and Christine O'Donnell. There are a whole host of folks that would win a general election, but they can't survive a Republican primary.

SANTORUM: The Democrats can get in their own way in this election cycle. We haven't had eventual primaries so far. We'll wait and see who gets through these Democratic primaries. So could the Democrats have a big sweep? Yes. If they're really strategic and smart or we could have Christine O'Donnells and Sharron Angle, and a whole bunch of others who get through, who are just too radical and Republicans --

COOPER: Joe, do you think the age of Joe Biden, Democrat is over?

TRIPPI: Like I said, I think we may find that out in 20 if he decides to run for President. There are a lot of people in the party that would like to see him try that. I'm not taking sides in it, but I don't think his days are over at all. He was one of the only -- again came to Alabama and it was a big success for us in the state. I think the thing about these races in a midterm, particularly this cycle for Democrats is, keep it local. The second the race becomes nationalized, people go back to their tribe. They become red voters or blue voters, and you can't win in a red district.

COOPER: And Conor Lamb really focused on that, keeping it local.

TRIPPI: Yes, keeping it local because if you make this about red versus blue and you're in a red district, that's not going to work too well.

BORGER: And he never did cable news. Yes.

TRIPPI: Again, regardless of whether Conor Lamb actually pulls this out, which I think he might -- but if he doesn't, it's still the lesson. You have to run Democrats that fit the district.

COOPER: 62 percent of the votes in, 7,600 ahead.

[21:29:58] BORGER: But this is Joe Biden's argument. It was his argument to Hillary Clinton, which wasn't listened to enough, he would argue, which is that there is a way. And that Biden can appeal to working class Democrats, some whom have been disaffected and went to vote for Donald Trump because they couldn't stand Hillary Clinton and that Biden can speak to those working class voters. And that's why he was brought in this state. And that's why he campaigned in those states for Hillary Clinton. And that's what he truly believes and thinks. And whether Biden runs or not, it's a lesson the Democrats need to learn from him. The problem is who's the messenger for that kind of a Democrat other than Joe Biden?

TRIPPI: Right.

BORGER: I mean it sort of speaks to what the Democratic Party is lacking right now, which would be somebody like Joe Biden who maybe is not Joe Biden.

CHALIAN: But Gloria, they have Nancy Pelosi. They have Nancy Pelosi.

BORGER: That's not it. I would tell you.

CHALIAN: Well, I mean, Conor Lamb would say the same thing.

TRIPPI: But that's always the case in a midterm with the out party, who doesn't have a president.


TRIPPI: And that fight happens in the next Presidential, 15, 16 people run like happened with the Republicans in 2016.

BORGER: More than that.

TRIPPI: Yes, 53 and then we see which one emerges as the leader of the party and pulls it together. No one would have predicted Donald Trump.

BORGER: Biden helped Obama that way. I would argue Obama had that same kind of a problem, and that's where Biden helped him out.


HENDERSON: But Obama also expanded the party, right?

BORGER: In another way.

HENDERSON: The surge voters and African-American voters, and you wonder if Joe Biden -- he's obviously got some baggage. He's older. He's won before. Never won, I don't think, a single primary when he actually ran for President or a caucus. So does he might attract kind of working class white voters, blue collar Democrats, but does he also energize African-American voters, younger voters, Latino voters, and women voters? That's still an open question.

SMERCONISH: I want to go back to where I began the evening, which is I think margin matters even more so than Conor Lamb's victory. And I'm not suggesting that it's a play book that works across the country. This is a guy in his introductory campaign commercial who wanted to be photographed with an AR-15 in his hands. It is a strategy that I think can work for Democrats in some of those Rust Belt States that were responsible for putting Donald Trump over the top.

MILLER: And I think it's also a message as well, I think, for Republican candidates not named Donald Trump. You better give the voters something to be excited about. I was taking a look at Rick Saccone's closing message or one of his closing ads. He's out there. He's got the sweater on. He's saying, I've worked with Republicans. I've worked with Democrats. There is nothing that will make voters just change the channel than looking at something where they're talking like they're already part of Washington. You need to talk about actually what you believe in, how you're going to be tough on things. You're going to get things done. People are still mad at Washington. They're looking to Washington -- even though Trump is in the White House, there's a lot of dysfunction.


TRIPPI: But one of the things that happens in these is you're worried -- there was a lot of concern in the party, can a Conor Lamb take advantage of the energized Democrats while still reaching over and appealing to Republicans? Would there be sort of a -- you know, sort of less energy on the Democratic side?


TRIPPI: That's clearly not happening either. It didn't happen in Alabama either. In fact, we had massive turnout on the Democratic side. It's actually possible to have all this energy on the Democratic side at the same time with the right messenger pull in enough Republicans to win district like this or at least scare moving day light how the Republicans for the next hours.

COOPER: 65 percent of the vote in, 7141 votes, Conor Lamb ahead. Still too close to call. The race in Pennsylvania though is tightening. We're going to take a look at exactly where the votes have already come in and where they have yet to come in. Obviously that's crucial. We'll continue our special coverage right after this.


[21:37:58] BLITZER: Welcome back to this special coverage of this election in the 18th District of Pennsylvania. We've got another Key Race Alert. It's tightened a bit. Take a look at this right now. 71 percent of the vote is now in this Pennsylvania District. Conor Lamb, the Democrat is ahead by about 5,100 votes over Rick Saccone, 51.5 percent to 47.9 percent. 71 percent of the vote is in.

Let's go over to John King at the Magic Wall. I guess the key question right now, the outstanding votes. Where are they?

KING: We're getting into crunch time. The biggest basket of outstanding votes is actually in the third largest of the four counties in this district, pieces of the county, which is Washington County. It's been stuck at 33 percent reporting for quite some time and it's a dead heat.

Now Rick Saccone with a minor lead there, fewer than 100 votes lead. If that stays like this as they fills in this is the key to the race right now in my view. I'll get for the other counties in a minute. But Washington County needs to stay red for Rick Saccone to win and he needs to win by -- he can't win by few votes. He's got to get that number probably closer to 60 percent. So we'll see.

There's two thirds of the vote out. We don't know what precincts they are. But they're up here. We have more suburban voters down here. It's much more rural. We don't know the answer to that question at least I don't at this second. So watch this. We expect when that changes, sometimes when you're stuck at 33 percent for a long time, we'll get a lot of votes quickly. For Rick Saccone, that margin needs to change right here in Washington County.

Number two, one of the reasons he tightened was because more votes came in the Westmoreland, the part of Westmoreland County that's in the district. We're up to 77 percent there. And you see -- I said earlier, he needs to be closer to 60 percent. Most of his campaign people would tell you that. He has stretched it up a little bit. He started inch up. He needs to pull more votes out of Westmoreland County, which is 34 percent of the district. This piece of the district here, as we get the final 23 percent, Rick Saccone needs to change that number because he needs the math. You see about 6,000 -- a little short of 6,000 votes there. Why does he need more? Because of this. Come over to Allegheny County, and this has held consistent. We're up to 85 percent. So if you're Conor Lamb, these are where your votes are coming from. Most of them are in. Still 15 percent out, though, and he's been in the ballpark of 13,000 votes there for a while.

So if he holds somewhere in 13,000 range out of the Allegheny County area, Rick Saccone has got to make it up out here.

[21:40:09] BLITZER: Standby for a moment. I want to go to Gary Tuchman. He is in Allegheny County for us right now. What are you seeing over there Gary, what are you hearing?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Allegheny County is about 40 percent of the district vote, so this is the most important county. And we're in a giant warehouse here in Pittsburgh. This is actually -- the warehouse is not in the district but it is in Allegheny County. And this is where all the absentee ballots are arriving for this county. Trucks and cars are pulling in and just literally five minutes ago, Wolf, the absentee ballots started arriving. And they are being counted in this room behind me. And with us right now, the boss of all this, this is the Mark Wolosik, he is the Elections Division Manager here in Allegheny County.

First of all, how is the voting going? How is everything going with the county, smoothly?

MARK WOLOSIK, ALLEGHENY COUNTY DIVISION MANAGER FOR ELECTIONS: Everything is going very well. We are at about 82 percent as of 10 minutes ago.

TUCHMAN: I think it's even a little higher than that we just heard in the last minute. So we're very -- the absentee ballots, do we know how many absentee ballots will be coming here, will still to come?

WOLOSIK: There were approximately 4,100 issued. I would anticipate probably 3,700, 3,800 have been returned. And that's how many will be coming here tonight to be scanned on our optical scan machines.

TUCHMAN: And mostly get in between us so we can take a look at the people counting them while I talk to you. But how long will it take to count all the absentee ballots?

WOLOSIK: I would think by midnight we should be finished.

TUCHMAN: So this will take from now until midnight?


TUCHMAN: Now, we watched everyone get sworn in before they start counting. Why do you swear people in? What's the purpose of that?

WOLOSIK: Well, under the Pennsylvania election code, we're required to take the constitutional oath of office when we begin tabulating votes on election night.

TUCHMAN: When will the votes be added to the total? As soon as they're counted?

WOLOSIK: At the final tabulation at the end of the night is when we had the absentee ballots.

TUCHMAN: Oh, I see. So they don't -- at 10 or 20 or 30 to tabulate, you wait until you get all 4,000?

WOLOSIK: That's right because they have to be downloaded on a disk and then placed into the system.

TUCHMAN: Where is the outstanding vote in the county as far as the regular vote? Do we know, we have 86 percent, do you have any idea?

WOLOSIK: I did not look. I can't answer.

TUCHMAN: Is there a specific pattern each election, or does it vary each time?

WOLOSIK: I think generally, you know, it's the districts that are geographically further away from the reporting centers just take longer to get there.

TUCHMAN: And Mark, good luck the rest of the night. We appreciate it.


TUCHMAN: We'll be around, Jake and Wolf as the absentee ballots continue to come into this building. Back to you.

BLITZER: Every vote counts as we say. Gary, thanks very much.

And let's review right now, John. As we take a look at this 18th Congressional District, 72 percent of the vote is now in. Conor Lamb, the Democrat, he still maintains the lead 5,400 vote lead over Rick Saccone.

KING: So three big pieces to this. The lead is because here, Allegheny County is a 13,000 vote here, 5,300 district-wide, 13,000 of it right here, as the final 15 percent comes in Allegheny County, critical for Conor Lamb to keep this margin run up to more math. Why it is critical? Because as more vote comes in, we're now up to 88 percent in Westmoreland County, I said earlier Rick Saccone needs to get closer to 60. He is been stuck to 57. If you look at that I think that's a pretty strong performance.

But if you look at the presidential race, President Trump had 65 percent plus in this county. Rick Saccone, to offset what Conor Lamb is doing at Allegheny County, he's got to run up a better margin here. There's still more of the vote to come in. You'll see if that number stays up. But again, you're looking here shy of 10,000, if you will a little short of that. They're 9000 it's hard to beat the margin here. And this to me is the key. We're still at 33 percent in Washington County and they're running dead even. So if it stays roughly even, Conor Lamb is going to win this district. If the vote is out is more Republican, which I can't tell you where the precincts are at the moment.

If this changes and starts to move Saccone's way, still got two-thirds of the vote out here. It's about 22 percent of the district here in Washington County. If it starts to come in and it starts to come in heavy Republican, you're going to see the margin change. And then we'll be doing the late count in Allegheny. We're up to 97 percent right now, 57 percent. The key for the Lamb campaign for them is have to be above 55, every inch you get above and more that, and now we're up to --

BLITZER: It's gotten tighter right now. The Conor Lamb lead over Rick Saccone is only about 3,500 votes. Now, it's just going back up a little bit, 4,174 votes. 78 percent of the vote is now in, 51 percent to 48.4 percent.

Remember Conor Lamb, the Democrat is ahead of Rick Saccone. This is a district that Donald Trump carried in 2016 by almost 20 points.

KING: He carried it by 20 points and he won everywhere in the district, including this slice of Allegheny County. Hillary Clinton won the county, but this slice of it, it's in the 18th District Donald Trump carried, which is why this is so significant to Conor Lamb tonight, because he's running up the margin here.

We're up -- I just want to see. That's what I was waiting for. This was at 33 percent when we started this conversation. Now we're up to 75 percent. It was even. Rick Saccone has taken a much healthier lead there, but I would argue I'm not sure that's enough. If you're Rick Saccone, you got to be closer to 60 percent.

If Conor Lamb can stay at 57 percent, 58 percent in Allegheny County and keep the big -- this is where you have more people, the suburbs here. Keep the lead here. Rick Saccone has to offset it here, 2,000 votes. That's not a big enough lead, not big enough to offset it, if you were to cut into it.

[21:45:11] And in Westmoreland County as the rest of the vote comes in here, 12 percent, he's got to boost this a little bit, 56 percent, 57 percent, that's a healthy win normally. But again, if you back to Presidential performance, I just want to show you President Trump at much higher than that. So we'll keep counting them. It is getting tighter, 2,500 votes right now. Getting tighter --

BLITZER: Tighter even as we spoke right now. We're going to stay on top of this. John, stick around. We're going to continue to count the votes in Pennsylvania. Conor Lamb holds a small lead in the Special Congressional Election. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: We got another Key Race Alert. Look how tight it's getting right now, 87 percent of the vote is in. The Democrat, Conor Lamb, he has a slight advantage over Rick Saccone, the Republican, right now, by almost 2,500 votes.

[21:50:03] Look at this 50.4 percent for Conor Lamb, 459 percent for Rick Saccone. This is a tight race 13 percent of the vote still outstanding.

Let's go over to John King and a lot will depend where those outstanding votes are. The absentee ballots, as well. This could wind up being a real nail biter?

KING: Yes, time to make some espresso.


KING: As we count them. Look, as you mentioned 87 percent in districtwide. Just show of 2,500-vote lead for the Democrat, Conor Lamb. He has that lead because of this, a big lead so far in Allegheny County. This is south of Pittsburgh. Not all of the counties in the district. This slice of the county is in the 18th Congressional District. Suburban voters, most of the Democrats who live in the district registered Democrats more of them are here, more people here. 91 percent reporting, 57 percent -- 58 percent, if you round that up to 42 percent. This is where Conor Lamb's margin of victory is coming from, right up there so far.

What he needs, as the rest of this vote comes in, he needs to keep the margins like this. Because he needs more votes here, even though there's only nine percent left, he needs more to offset what we've seen happen as the vote starts to come in, came in later from the rural areas.

The piece of Westmoreland County that's in the district here, 57 percent to 42 percent, again, you see the lead there. Saccone leading by just shy of 10,000 here. Again, I would argue, we have 12 percent of this district out. When that comes in, he has to hope it's from more Republican areas that boost that up a little bit. It's a healthy lead in this area. If Conor Lamb keeps his margin up here, might not be healthy enough.

Washington County, remember, was tide at 33 percent. We're up to 75 percent now. Rick Saccone has pulled away there, just shy of 2,000 votes, doing the rough math. Again, it's impressive, but if you go back to Presidential performance, 61 percent for the President Trump, 52 percent for Rick Saccone.

Again, if this margin holds up when the rest of Allegheny County comes in, underperforming the President here, the third largest county in the state, and here, the second largest county in the district -- excuse me, not the state, could be the difference. There's one more county, more rural Greene County. We'll come to it this way, down in the bottom half, a tiny slice, a little over two percent of the district in terms of population. It's a much more rural area.

BLITZER: 100 percent is in. KING: A 100 percent is in. So Rick Saccone, A, he can't count for anymore votes out of this most Republican area. And B, again you've got 58 percent of the vote. Normally you would think that's a pretty big win. Again, if you compare it to Presidential performance, not always fair. Presidential is different from a midterm year, especially in special election. But if you're looking back at the Trump coalition, does the President get his voters to come out after making the visit, Rick Saccone underperforming the President in this hour.

I wish I could go back a couple of cycles and say how's he doing opposed to various Republican candidates, but the last two cycles, the Republican candidate ran unopposed in this district. So we're comparing it to most recent election. We got a clue at it. And I would just come back to the full district at 88 percent, 2,800-vote lead for Conor Lamb. He's at just 50.5 percent district wide, 50.5. This is the difference, right here.

Suburbs south of Pittsburgh, the lower slice of Allegheny County in this district, again, more Democrats, more suburban, more people. Conor Lamb racking it up here by a healthy margin, Rick Saccone winning the other more Republican counties, but not by as big a margin and there simply aren't as many people.

BLITZER: Westmoreland County, if we go back to the 18th Congressional District as a whole right now, go back to the whole district, there you see 91 percent of the vote is now in. And the lead has narrowed, only 15,049 votes, the lead for Conor Lamb over Rick Saccone. It's very, very tight. Let's note forget, you make a good point. This has been a solidly Republican congressional district for at least 15 years.

KING: It has been, to the point that the Republican congressman who resigned in disgrace, but the last two times, the Democrats didn't even field a candidate. So normally, you look at the last couple of cycle. You don't want to go back too far, the lines of the districts have changed, the demographics have changed and the like but that's why it's such a big deal. President carried it by 20 points. The previous Republican didn't have an opponent the last two elections in a row. Our panelists have been talking about the state how Conor Lamb has run a race for the district.

I just want to check when we get up to 91 where that vote came in from. Here is where it came in. They jumped from 88 to 90 percent here in Washington County. And again, that's a lead in a Republican County, but I would guess --

BLITZER: Go back to the district as a whole. Look at this now. The lead for Conor Lamb is now only 703 votes, 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent. Look at how tight this race is with 94 percent of the vote in.

KING: And so let's look again. What went up? 97 percent, Westmoreland County, The Westmoreland County part that jumped up. It's a Republican area, so that's why. Now you're just shy of 10,000 votes there for the lead there. I said earlier, probably needs to be at 60 percent in the part of Westmoreland County that's in the district to win. These numbers have been inching up. Might not be high enough, but they are moving up. That's where those votes came from. When this went up to 97 percent, I want to check over here, 90 percent in Washington County. So if the remaining 10 percent comes in, Rick Saccone will get more votes out of here, that 53 percent might not be enough if that holds. And the key is to check here. We're up to 93 percent. And this margin has held pretty consistently.

BLITZER: In Allegheny County.

[21:55:00] KING: Yes, and again, a fewer percentage of precincts still out, a smaller number there, but more people live here. So when they come in, if these margins hold, Conor Lamb is going to get some more votes when they come in. But to pull it back out, 703 votes at 94 percent, as I said, espresso time.

BLITZER: They're going to be counting the absentee ballots, about 3,700, in Allegheny County itself. Let's take another quick break. A very, very tight race in Pennsylvania. Our special coverage continues right after this.


COOPER: And this is the very definition of a tight race, 95 percent of the votes are in. Conor Lamb still has a lead, but only by 928 votes, 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent.

Our Gary Tuchman is at a Warehouse in Allegheny County, where they are counting the absentee ballots. Gary, explain what you're looking at and how this works.

TUCHMAN: OK, Anderson. Allegheny County has 40 percent of the 18th district vote, incredibly important. As we speak, absentee ballots are arriving in these white envelopes. These are the absentee ballots. What happens after the people get the absentee ballots, these machines, these great machines, there's four of them right over here, those are the scanners, and those ballots are put inside the scanners and they immediately tabulate the vote if it's for the Democrat or the Republican.