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Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone Tight Race in Pennsylvania. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 22:00   ET



GARY TUCHMAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: -- ballots are put inside the scanners and they immediately tabulate the vote if it's for the Democrat or the Republican. But you won't see those on our tote boards in the studio. Because they will wait until they tabulate every (technical difficulty).

They gave out about 4,200 absentee ballots. There's no way to know how many they will get. Right now hundreds of them have arrived, but they expect there are at least hundreds more still to come.

So we won't get the total number until they are all done. But as they go into these gray machines, they are immediately tabulated and we'll see the results a little bit later. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: And Gary, I should just point out, still 95 percent of the vote, but a jump of about 200 votes for Conor Lamb, so it's now 50 percent to 49.4 percent. Gary, do they have a sense of how long it's going to take them to tabulate those votes?

TUCHMAN: What we are being told by the election director here in Allegheny County is that they expect to be done tabulating all the absentee votes by midnight. So that's two hours from now. But as you look at the people they are working very hard.

It's a very interesting procedure here, Anderson, when we came in, all these people held up their hand and took an oath to be honest. They had to swear to be honest before they started counting the votes. We also were told that we would have to take a similar oath when we came here, because we're in the room with them.

And right now we're the only news media in the room with them. We have vowed that we wouldn't come to the table, right up to the table, so we could hear everyone with the camera. We were standing about 20 feet away and that was the agreement we have. But it gives us a very unique look at what could be, we don't know for sure, but what could be the decisive votes in this very important election here in the 18th district of Pennsylvania.

COOPER: Gary, we'll continue to check in with you fascinating to see that process at work. And it's just one minute past 10. Again, counting the votes to 95 percent of the votes in. Conor Lamb ahead with 1,132. Again, just a slight tick up, but very, very close.

Let's just talk in general for the folks --


RICK SANTORUM, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, I'm just looking at the districts. Obviously, I represent a lot of this area. And you know, in the Allegheny County portion of the district that's still outstanding, I'd say about half of the -- half of the areas are Saccone areas and half -- so I don't -- I don't see Lamb's lead growing much in Allegheny County. And almost everything out in Washington County is going to be good for Saccone.

I don't -- I can't see the Westmoreland part. So this race should tighten from here. I don't know how much at this point, though.

COOPER: And do you have a sense on absentee ballots, where that might go?

SANTORUM: Only from what you've reported. I don't know whether -- I don't know whether every county counts them the way Allegheny County counts them. I think a lot of them count them at the precinct, so

COOPER: But do you have any sense in who's voting --


SANTORUM: No. I don't. Joe and I were talking about who did a more effective job. The only reason I would think maybe Republicans did a more effective job is because the Republican Party was in, in a bigger way supporting it. It's usually not something the campaign does, it's usually something the party does. And the party was sort of big in for Saccone and they weren't in for Lamb. So that might make a difference.

COOPER: You know, just for the viewers who were joining us at the top of the hour who have not been watching all night, let's just talk kind of big picture on this, on why this race matters, Joe.

JOE TRIPPI, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, it matters because Democrats have not so far this year, in any specials or the midterms been able to attract enough Republican -- or just working class white voters, period. And they've been able to -- we were able, in many of these states to or special elections, to move suburban Republican women over, younger Republicans, college-educated Republicans.

For this to be where it's at right now, I mean, it's already a success in the sense that Conor Lamb, win or lose, has successfully been the first candidate out of the shoot for Democrats.


COOPER: So it's a symbolic lose for Democrats?

TRIPPI: He's pulled -- well, no, he's pulled -- he's won a lot of the labor votes that voted for Trump in the last -- there's no way to win this, or to even be in this -- have this lead, even if Saccone, you know, comes back and wins it by a few tenths of a point, there's no way that can happen without working class voters who voted for Trump either staying home or coming out and voting, but voting for Conor Lamb.

That's a Democrat with a "d" next to his name. No matter what he was saying about anything, let me tell you, with a lot of these voters just having the word "Democrat" next to your name has for the last decade been a big problem. And this is significant.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: This is what I meant when the polls closed at 8 o'clock and I said, I'm more interested in the margin than I am the victor. This is very exciting, a more exciting night than I thought that we would have on our hands.

But the narrative is already set. It hardly matters now which of these two wins for a district that is in the process of vanishing within this --


COOPER: We should point out, the person who wins is only going to serve until, what, November?


COOPER: Right.

SMERCONISH: So the narrative is already cemented now. This is a district that the president won by 20 points, that at best his party has really struggled to control and to contain. Nothing is going to change that now.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: But if Trump wins -- if Saccone --


SMERCONISH: What's a victory? What's a win?

BORGER: A win is a win.

SMERCONISH: I don't think so.

[22:04:56] BORGER: Well, but if Saccone were to win, the President of the United States is not going to take a look at the margin and say, well, he only won by this much.

SMERCONISH: But Gloria, I think there are many who will wake up in the morning, as someone said earlier, and say, I'm not so sure -- at this margin, already, I'm not sure I'm sticking around. I think --


COOPER: Jason Miller, are you going to wake up and say that?

JASON MILLER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: No. I mean, I think tomorrow the president is going to get up and he's going to go to Missouri. He's going to talk about tax cuts and what's going on with the economy. And I think more Americans tomorrow are going to be worried about their NCAA bracket, getting that filled in, they are going to care anything about this race.

And this will be a snapshot where we can see where some of the energy and enthusiasm is on the left. We'll see, again, what we talked about with the union-voting households and if there are any trends that people can pick up.

But again, the overarching narrative, what people are really paying attention to I think really is going to stem from the White House and as the president's out selling the economic successes, that's going to influence a lot more. The rest of these races in the fall, they're not going to have the opportunity to pay attention to every single race.

COOPER: Assuming he sticks to that message tomorrow, by the way. But Kirsten, we haven't heard from you.

KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: I think that -- I think -- I just disagree -- I mean, it may be true that the average person isn't thinking about it, but the people who are going to be running are going to be thinking about it.


POWERS: And the people, you know, in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are going to be thinking about and they're going to be watching this and they're going to be making a lot of decisions about what they're going to do.

And so, there's two things. One, the Republicans are going to be looking at the Trump coalition and is it, you know, what's going on there. And the Democrats are going to be looking at, are we going to try to run people in the districts that are like the districts, because that's a big fight.

MILLER: If you don't think --


COOPER: By the way, 96 percent of the vote's in now. Conor Lamb slightly, now 1238 ahead, a slight jump.

DAVID CHALIAN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CNN: Just imagine this scenario. You're a Republican, you're on the ballot this year, you know that every guide of history tells you, this is going to be a really rough year to run. You're in a competitive district.

And by competitive, I mean, fine, you're in one of the districts that Hillary Clinton won. So that really had you concerned, already. You probably have your game on already. But if, let's say you're just in a Trump plus five district, a Trump plus eight district.


CHALIAN: And you look up tonight and you see that a district that Donald Trump won by 20 points just over a year ago is potentially about to slip into Democratic hands or come really close, you start freaking out. Like, that's just the reality.

That -- and what happens is, you -- your members, your fellow members, you start, all that hand-wringing together, how bad is it going to be. Are we prepared? Do we have the money that we need? This is going to set the stage for the Republican Party to look at their majority and say, are we fortified the way we need to be, if, indeed, this wave that is crashing on the shore in November is enormous?

And tonight is -- that's why we're paying attention tonight. Is we're trying to get a sense of, we know it's going to be a Democratic year. But we're trying to get a sense, how big of a Democratic year might it be? And that's why a night like tonight is why we're paying attention.

BORGER: And you know, it's also a question of how much the president can ask any Republican to do. If he wants a Republican to agree with him on something that may push them a little bit in an uncomfortable zone. If he had done that on guns, for example, or if he does it on something else. They're going to say, you know what, me first. I'm sorry, you're not helping me out here. And they didn't --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And bringing the president in doesn't help him.

BORGER: And bringing the president in didn't help, of course. The president on Saturday night, I have no life, so I saw what he -- you know, the whole thing. And the president on Saturday night didn't talk about his candidate. He talked about himself. Normally, when you go into a -- when you go in to campaign for someone, you talk about that person most of the time.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, CNN: Yes. And they put a lot into this race. I mean, it wasn't only that Donald Trump was there. Mike Pence was there, Ivanka Trump was there, Donald Trump, Jr. was there, Kellyanne Conway was there. I mean, they threw everyone --


BORGER: But Joe Biden was there.

HENDERSON: Joe Biden was there for the other -- for the other candidate. So they threw everybody in there. And you talk about Rick Saccone not being able to raise money. Well, in some ways, he didn't need to. Because he had $10 million from outside groups --


MILLER: Yes. But where I'm going to jump in and push back is Rick Saccone didn't run his first TV ad in a campaign until last Wednesday. This race was defined, this race was over the one ad that he put up was terrible and I think it helped him down the home stretch.

But what I do hope going back to David's point, I do hope the Republican members on the Hill take a look and say, am I running a good campaign, am I raising some money, are these guys scared straight to figure out that they need to worry about winning their own race. And I just hope that some magical wave is going to carry him. I hope some of these guys snap to attention. They need to run good campaigns. And if they're not running good campaigns they might --


POWERS: But you have to also remember that terrible candidates win all the time. I mean, all the time. Most candidates are terrible candidates. But there -- I mean, that's the truth. And so the idea that like just he was a bad candidate and that explains everything, what is much more important is where you're running. And, you know, what kind of district you're in.

COOPER: Let's take -- let's go back to Wolf and John at the magic wall just to figure out exactly what votes are still outstanding.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN: Yes. There are still outstanding votes, John King. Right now 96 percent of the vote has been counted, Conor Lamb, the Democrat, he has a slight lead, 50 percent to 49.4 percent. He's ahead by 1,238 votes.

[22:10:07] The key question in these four counties, in this 18th congressional district, where are those outstanding votes?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Let's go through them. And as we do, we'll notice we've been through this before in past tight elections. We're stuck at the moment which is what makes the tension build. In the sense that 96 percent district-wide, 1,200 votes and some change, the lead.

Let's start in the biggest county. This is Allegheny. The slice of Allegheny in the district is more than 40 percent. Of the voters in the district, we've been stuck at 97 percent for some time.

Conor Lamb has had a healthy lead margin-wise or percentage-wise and math wise throughout the night. The question is, when that 3 percent comes in, he needs it. He needs more, and he needs the numbers. And the question is, you know, when those precincts come in, do they come in with a similar margin?

Keep an eye on that 57 percent. When the math comes in, do those numbers stay right around there? Why does he need them? Because he's in the lead right now, but second largest county in the district, this slice of the Westmoreland County here in the 18th district, we're up to 99 percent now.

Rick Saccone, just shy of -- a little more than 10,000 votes there. A little more than 10,000 votes. I said earlier, I think he needs to be closer to 60. But he's right there at 99 percent. He has moved up from the mid-50s to 57. We'll see if that's enough. We'll wait for the final precincts to come in here. That's what's tightened this up in front of 38 votes.

And then over here, we're still missing 10 percent of the vote in Washington County. When we have 33 percent, this race was tied. As more comes in, the DNA, this is a Republican county. You see Rick Saccone right there. But again, that's what, shy of 3,000 votes there.

At the 90 percent mark, Rick Saccone needs the rest of these votes to come in, he needs that margin to boost up a little bit again on the assumption. Greene County, by the way is 100 percent in, so I didn't go down the smallest county.

Still looking for these 3 percent, plus Gary Tuchman watching the absentee ballots could come down to that count in case of the margin. But in Allegheny County, when that final 3 percent comes in, Conor Lamb needs to stay there and boost that math number.

Because when you pull back up, 918 votes ahead, 900 inside a thousand with 96 percent of the precincts in, and again, I just want to check one more time to see if anything's moved. That's still at 99 percent.

Expect Rick Saccone to get a little bit more here, but we're at 99 percent. So, not a lot. This is key. When that 10 percent comes in, does it stick with this or does the Saccone margin go up a little bit?

And if you are in the Lamb campaign right now, this is what matters most, because it's the biggest part of the district. More people live in these precincts, because it's more suburban. You're more rural when you move out to the other places.

You are calling your precinct captains in these areas trying to figure out what in Allegheny County is missing. Is it hard place, is it a big play place for us and you're biting your nails right now in both campaigns because you're looking at 918 votes at 96 percent.

BLITZER: Yes. And we're told there's about 3,700 absentee ballots they're counting in Allegheny County, counting right now. We're watching a nail biter in Pennsylvania with more than 95 percent of the vote counted. This race is still too close to call.


BLITZER: We've got a key race alert. Look at how close it is at 96 percent of the vote is in. The Democrat, Conor Lamb, his lead over the Republican, Rick Saccone, only 918 votes.

Conor Lamb has 104,679 votes. Rick Saccone has 103,779 votes. This is 49.9 percent for Conor Lamb, 49.5 percent for Rick Saccone. Only 918 votes separate these two candidates.

Jake and Dana, this is a -- people thought it was going to be close, but this is really, really close.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: Yes. And for those wondering at home, we should point out, there is no automatic recount in Pennsylvania on the congressional district level. There is on the statewide level, but on the congressional district level, if it becomes that close, a candidate will have to petition and get three individuals in each precinct.

DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right. We started out this evening talking about how Republicans genuinely didn't think that they were going to win. Democrats genuinely thought that they would. And now it feels less certain. I wouldn't say different, but less certain. Jake, I feel like we've had -- we've done this before.


BASH: This feels like deja vu, don't you?

TAPPER: And one other thing. Let's take a look at the estimated absentee ballots by county that remain out there. Allegheny County, about 3,700, approximately. Greene County, 203. Washington County, 1,200. Westmoreland County, 1,800. Total almost 7,000 absentee ballots by county and we have Conor Lamb with 96 percent of the vote in, only up by 918 votes. These absentee ballots are going to have to be counted before this race is called.

BASH: They probably will and they're going to be absolutely key. I was just texting with a senior Democrat, Jake, on this whole question of whether Conor Lamb is right now, who said that he is, right now, at the minimum number of votes that he needs to win.

If he dips below where he is right now, he's in big trouble. And Allegheny County, where John was showing us, really needs to be no less than 57 percent. He's right now about 57.3 percent. If it goes below that, this is according to Democrats, Conor Lamb is toast.

And Republicans, I will just say, are sort of certainly not thrilled, because this should not be this competitive, but are feeling a little bit different and a little bit desperate that they did at 8 o'clock tonight.

TAPPER: One of the things that's interesting also, is that the pollsters have still not yet figured out how to measure this very volatile electorate. They were not able to do so in 2016. And they're not able to do so now.

The problem of voters who are low-frequency voters and no-frequency voters, who show up and actually vote at the polls remains a perplexing problem for them.

Conor Lamb, according to a Monmouth University poll was supposed to win by five or six. Both Democrats and Republicans at internal votes -- internal polls showing that Conor Lamb, suggesting Conor Lamb was going to win. All three of those pollsters wrong. That this is -- this is an incredibly tight race.

BASH: Absolutely. And I will tell you that what Republicans, especially those from Trump land, are telling me tonight is, as you can imagine, they give the credit to the president for going there on Saturday, for rallying the Republicans who were not excited about getting out.

He raised the level of Republican turnout more than it was going to be. We'll have to dissect those numbers and see if that's really true. But I think just anecdotally, where we see where these votes are right now, based on what the anticipation was from Republicans and Democrats, they might be right.

[22:20:06] TAPPER: On the big scale, on the large scale picture, as our colleagues across the room have pointed out, this is a district that Republicans normally win.

BASH: No question.

TAPPER: And for Conor Lamb to make it so close, even if ultimately he does not win, and we have no idea what's going to happen, it still shows that the Democratic electorate is fired up and the wind is at the back of Democrats, even if Rick Saccone's -- Rick Saccone ends up winning.

But on a smaller -- that's the big scale picture. On the smaller scale picture, you're right that Republicans are going to say that President Trump showing up and not only motivating the base, but telling him -- telling them the name of the candidate, Rick Saccone. Telling them, hey, by the way, there's an election on Tuesday, that that information shared by President Trump, bringing the spotlight really helped. Wolf Blitzer?

BLITZER: All right. Let's go over to John King and see where these votes are outstanding. I want to also point out, 96 percent of the vote is in. The libertarian candidate, Drew Miller, he's got 1,280 votes. He's got more votes than the difference right now. Conor Lamb, the Democrat, still ahead of Rick Saccone, the Republican, by only 918 votes.

KING: We don't have exit polling, so we can't say who they would have voted for if Drew Miller were on the ballot. But this is welcome to American politics, 2018, and for the foreseeable future, third party candidates. Increasingly, especially in close races, you're going to see lots of them.

We go back to 2016 you can talk to Hillary Clinton about Jill Stein, if you want, it's up to you. I'll leave you that conversation.

But let's go back to this, 918 lead, 49.9 to 49.5. That matters in the sense that we don't know exactly where it's coming from, but it's taking away. So let's see where we are.

And again, this is where we're waiting for these final precincts to come in. We're at 97 percent in the slice of Allegheny County. It stretches up here too. But this slice of Allegheny County is in the district.

This is the bread and butter for Conor Lamb. He needs to stay above 57 percent there. We're told there are few -- we're up to 98 percent now. We're told there are a few precincts out here that Conor Lamb is expected to win. One, in an area where he's expected to get in the high 50s. One in an area where he's at the lower 50s.

Dana was just talking about this, Democrats think it's critical, especially now that they're seeing the performance in the Republican areas that he stay at or above 57 percent. Let's watch that and watch the math. Ninety eight percent in Allegheny County.

Again, only 2 percent left. More people live here, so that 2 percent sometimes has a little bit more weight in terms of the math than 2 percent somewhere else. We'll watch that.

Let's just check. Down here in Washington County, we've been stuck at 90 for a good stretch of time now. Again, at 33 percent, this county was tied. As more Republican votes have come in, we're up to 90. Rick Saccone is just shy of 53 percent.

As that final percent comes in, just like I said, Conor Lamb has to hold his 57 here. If you're Rick Saccone, you want to get above 53, closer to 55 as that final 10 percent comes in, you need the math -- you need the math to make it up here. Let's pull back out here. Seven hundred ninety five votes at --


BLITZER: Got a bit tighter.

KING: -- at 97 percent. Let's come over here. We're at 99 percent here in Westmoreland County. So, again, Rick Saccone can expect given this margin to get something, but it's a tiny, tiny percentage left to come in.

So, the main things we're looking for, what little bit comes in here, this, up to 93 percent here. Again, this is the third -- Allegheny first, then we come here to Westmoreland. Then to Washington. It's the third biggest slice of the district. But still some votes to come in here.

Let's come back out. Five hundred forty votes now, as more votes come in. As they come in, again, Greene County, I'm not ignoring Greene County. I'm not going back there because it's at 100 percent.

So we're up to 93. We're up to 99. And we're up to 98 right here. And you pull it all out, because we count them, and it's going to -- we're going to have to count every last vote tonight. Five hundred forty right there.

Sometimes you get a margin so big you can do the math and say they're not there. At 540 ahead with 97 percent in, guess what? That final percentage point is going to matter here. That final 7 percent is a big deal here. That's a decent chunk, 7 percent, again, there. And again, 2 percent left here. Conor Lamb has to hope in the 2 percent that's out he performs at or above that 57 percent.

BLITZER: Take a look and let's take -- show us the district right now. You can see, 540 votes, that's what separates Conor Lamb, the Democrat, Rick Saccone, the Republican. Ninety seven percent of the vote has been counted in this surprisingly competitive special election.

Stay with us, the final ballots are being tallied.

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: And welcome to a very exciting race in Pennsylvania. It does not get much closer than this. Ninety eight percent of the votes counted. Conor Lamb is up by 585 votes. That is it.

Rick Santorum, you've been watching this very closely.

SANTORUM: Yes. Most of the votes in Washington County are from Peters Township, which is a very affluent suburban area of Pittsburgh, just across the border from Allegheny County. So, all of those conservative voters who don't want to pay the higher taxes in Allegheny County cross the border into Washington County and live in Peters Township.

And it looks like six precincts left in Peters Township. It's a populated area. There's enough votes to make up that difference. The difference is, there's three districts left in Allegheny County. All should be for Lamb, one probably pretty heavily for Lamb, so.

COOPER: You call it? You can't call it?

SANTORUM: I'm not going to call it.

BORGER: You think Peters Township would be for Saccone?

SANTORUM: Yes, the districts that have come in so far in Peters Township have voted for Saccone. And across -- across the border is upper Saint Claire, which voted, you know, mid-50s for Lamb. But, again, it's the folks who want to leave Allegheny County and more conservative voter that lives in Peters Township --

COOPER: But regardless, it's probably going to boil down to the absentee ballots, no?


SANTORUM: Well, whatever's going to happen at this point. With 7,000 absentee ballots, we're going to be up --


SMERCONISH: Can I make a point independent of the absentee ballots, which is simply this. That an advanced society should be able to count 2,015 ballots with one question on them within two and a half hours. It's not a sexy subject. We never enhance the machinery.


SANTORUM: I'm not -- I'm not appreciating you beating up on my home.

SMERCONISH: It's a point I would make about the whole country. It's like, every four years we say, you know, we need to improve this system.

[22:30:06] SANTORUM: There might have been lines to the polls. You'll never know. I mean, come on.

BORGER: I remember the Iowa caucuses when you were hanging by a vote or two that time --

SANTORUM: I was. Eight votes.

MILLER: It's going to be -- it's going to be worse because we're going to paper ballots. That will be a lot slower than this.

BORGER: How long does it take to count the absentees? I mean that's...


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: They should be done by midnight. But they don't in dribs and drabs. They just do it in all one big in number.

BORGER: Well that's good.



COOPER: We're getting back to the national significance of this race which we were talking about before. I mean, you made the point early on that for you, who won and who lost, not all that significant because they're only going to be there until November. But the -- how close they came, that was the story.

SMERCONISH: I think it's hard to spin. I really don't know what argument will be on behalf of Republicans and the White House come tomorrow. Because by any objective measure in a district, and it's been said so many times tonight, that the president won by 20 and Mitt Romney won by 17, the president invested personal capital by coming in on...

COOPER: But it's better to win than to lose if you're a Republican. I mean, a win is a win.

SMERCONISH: Yes. And I think anybody who looks at the metrics of this thing says this should have been a slam dunk. And the fact that it's not will set off alarm bells or at least it should within the GOP.

And I am as interested in what takeaway Democrats come away with because I think there are some difficult decisions as to how they position themselves. And I think that it speaks to a divide within the Democratic Party as to whether it's going to be Elizabeth Warren...


COOPER: If you're Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, and you're watching this, what are you thinking?

SMERCONISH: I think you will have trepidation about -- about a young member of Congress, should he win, who holds an AR-15 and gets elected by being, you know, someone with those bona fides. BORGER: But you have a senator who won by being kind of, you know,

middle of the road in Alabama and I don't think they're scared by that.

SMERCONISH: That's pretty unique though. He's running against someone with as much baggage as you could ever conjure.

BORGER: Right.

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Michael, let's talk about the metrics for a moment. I think one of the things that Trump supporters will point out is the fact that Saccone was down by five points before the president's visit. And then afterwards this thing is dead even.

SMERCONISH: But why was he down by five to begin with? I mean, you could say it was because he lacked charisma.

MILLER: And I have been saying for the last couple of hours...

SMERCONISH: Well, obviously he was down five because of the president.

MILLER: No, the president coming in is what gave him the wind in his sails, gave him that pop, I think also his policies, talking about the steel tariffs, that gave him a shot in the arm as well. It's because of President Trump that he even got this close. I think people are going to go back and look about how important...

SMERCONISH: But I would argue it's because of the president...


MILLER: ... and not until the last minute.

SMERCONISH: Perhaps it's because of President Trump that he started as far behind as he was. Listen, I don't want to lay the whole thing off...

MILLER: No, Trump boosted him. That logic doesn't work.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That is the dynamic of the current political moment. It is exactly that. Donald Trump can totally motivate the Republican base -- the core part of the Republican base. It's why we're going to see Donald Trump this year in places like North Dakota and West Virginia, and Missouri.

MILLER: But, David, if he's down five and then Trump comes in and it's a tie game, it's a jump ball. That's because Trump gave him that boost.

CHALIAN: I just said that. He can motivate the base but he can also turn off a whole swath of suburban women who the party needs in order to have a successful year. So both things can happen here. SMERCONISH: But what I think this race really is, is a measurement of

passion. Passion wins tonight, however it turns out. It was a chilly day in Pennsylvania today. We have snowflakes on the ground. It's a vanishing district.

There's one question that people have to come out and vote on. It really requires -- I mean, I give credit to those who come out and do their civic duty, but this require requires an emotional attachment to who wins this thing. And that's what it really shows you tonight. Where does the passion lie?

COOPER: Conor Lamb, 700 votes ahead with 98 percent votes counted. They are still counting the final ballot. Ninety-eight percent of the vote they said has been tallied. Still too close to call. They're counting the absentee ballots as well. All of that ahead.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An incredibly close race in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district. Ninety-eight percent of the vote is in. The Democrat, Conor Lamb is only 700 votes ahead of Rick Saccone, the Republican.

Drew Miller, he is done. He's the libertarian. But take a look at this. More than 215,000 votes have been cast, 700-vote difference between Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone, 49.9 percent for Conor Lamb, the Democrat 49.5 percent for Rick Saccone, the Republican.

Let's go over to John King at the magic wall. And once again, Greene County, the smallest county there, 100 percent of the vote is in. Washington County, there's still some significant number of votes outstanding there, about seven percent.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seven percent. The question is, do they factor -- we're waiting for the rest of the precincts to come in there, which had absentee ballots still to be counted there.

This is Rick Saccone's great hope right now in the sense that -- again, pull back out, a very narrow 700-vote margin overall. And you've still got seven percent to out here in a county -- Washington County part of the district, that hays winning and winning comfortably. I said earlier tonight, he wants that number to be higher than that.

So the question is in the remaining precincts, how many of those are Saccone votes and when it's a 700-vote margin that he needs to win by a healthy margin there.

I just want to check Westmoreland again, 99 percent here. So perhaps a few more votes for Rick Saccone, who's winning this district. This is his best county of the bigger counties here. And then lastly, we're at 99 percent here. And we know -- we saw Gary Tuchman a couple of times earlier. They're counting the absentee ballots in...


BLITZER: Let me go to Gary ...

KING: ... that they say they will have by midnight.

BLITZER: Let me go to Gary Tuchman right now. Gary, I understand that about 3,700 absentee ballots in Allegheny County. They're counting now and they expect to get the results by midnight. Is that right?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it may even be earlier. And with us right now is Mark Wolosik. He is the Elections Director here in Allegheny County. First of all, all your votes are in for the people who voted today. Hundred percent of the ballots are in, correct?


TUCHMAN: OK. And the Democrat got 57.04 percent of the vote here in Allegheny County. So now, we are all realizing that the absentee balloting could decide this election. We have at least 3,000 absentee ballots that have come in.

[22:40:01] But you are still expecting more, correct?

WOLOSIK: We're expecting about 10 more precincts to arrive within the next 10 or 15 minutes. We will scan them and then, we will upload the results to a -- to a different electronic medium and then we will put them in a database.

TUCHMAN: And you were explaining it will take 10 or 15 minutes to do all the computer work.


TUCHMAN: But as of now, you don't know what the 3,000 ballots that have already arrived and gone into those scanning machines tell us?

WOLOSIK: That's right, we do not know.

TUCHMAN: It's all a secret. You're the boss. You know nothing?

WOLOSIK: Well, that's right, we don't know. They are -- they are stored internally on that machine, but we haven't downloaded them to a disk to read them.

TUCHMAN: Now you sent out 4,100 roughly absentee ballots. So that's the most we'll get back. We already have 3,000. So you're expecting no more than 1,100. But far of it I guess has been met.

WOLOSIK: Yes, I don't think there'll be 1,100 out of those ten districts.

TUCHMAN: So what time...

WOLOSIK: Because not everybody returns them. TUCHMAN: Correct. So what time do you think we will know if these

last ballots coming in the next few minutes, how soon will we know what all 3,000 or more ballots tell us?

WOLOSIK: I hope by about 11:15.

TUCHMAN: By about 11:15? So we're talking about half an hour from now?


TUCHMAN: OK. And this is the absentee ballot. I want to give you a look what people do when they get this. They pencil in Conor Lamb, Rick Saccone, Drew Gray Miller, the libertarian, they send it in and then goes -- excuse me for one second.

I don't mean to be rude to you. You have a lot of hard work to do. They then go into those green machines and that is where they're going to scan it.

You can see it's very quiet right now. They're done with 3,000 and they are waiting for the remaining ballots to come in and these are the ballots that could decide the election. Thank you for being so gracious and talking to us. Back to you, Wolf. Back to you, John. Back to you, Anderson.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. So it could come down, John, to these absentee ballots in Allegheny County and Washington County. We don't know about Westmoreland and Greene County, but it could come down to counting those.

KING: If can you pull out district wide at 700 votes with 3,000 or more just in Allegheny County, so clearly the math is out there to change this race. The math is out there with the absentee ballots here.

The commissioner is saying he thought all the precincts were reporting. So we'll see if there's any change in Allegheny County in the next half hour as we wait for the absentees. But again, this was Conor Lamb's biggest test, stay above 56, 57. He did that.

The question is, is it enough, the margin of error to offset what we're seeing here, still at 93 percent in Washington County. So this is the -- until we get to the absentee ballots, this is the biggest question mark of outstanding votes.

Where are they coming from, how many are there? Does it stick with this margin? So how many can Rick Saccone make up if it stays with -- stays in the red?

Well, over here in Westmoreland, we're at 99 percent. So I'm waiting to see what happens in Washington County and the rest of those votes, and then we'll be counting those absentees. Well optimistically, he said before midnight. That would be nice.

BLITZER: We'll see if that happens. It clearly underscores once again, every vote counts. It's critically important. Look at how close it is right now, 755-vote advantage for the Democrat, Conor Lamb, over the Republican, Rick Saccone. All right, Anderson, we're counting the votes. We'll see what happens.

COOPER: Yes. And we'll be following them all along. President Trump is obviously taking a keen interest in this race. He went there and spoke over the weekend. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta traveling with the president in California tonight. What are you hearing, if anything, from the White House?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. President Trump is in Beverly Hills. You can hear the sirens behind me, probably for security. But Beverly Hills is about as far from the swamp as you can -- you can think of it.

But at this point, I talked to a source close to the White House just a few moments ago who said listen, you know, they are getting more hopeful watching this race tighten. No doubt about it.

They believe that these absentee ballots that are outstanding in Pennsylvania, that those are more than likely to be Rick Saccone ballots. That is their wishful thinking at this point. We'll see if it bears out.

But at the same time, Anderson, I talked to a Republican source -- top Congressional source earlier this evening. There was a lot of hand wringing on Capitol Hill inside the Republican Party, watching this race.

This source said to me, you can't read too much into one individual race and they don't think there are a lot of Conor Lambs out there, who is seen by Republicans as a very strong Democratic candidate.

But this person was saying listen, this is not a good sign for the November elections. Even if the Republicans were to squeak this one out, Anderson. Keep in mind, this would be a tidal wave-type surge in the Democratic Party's direction if this district were to go to Rick Saccone by just one or two percentage points.

And at this point, it may not even be that. And in the words of this one top Republican Congressional source, November could be a bloodbath. That is the concern inside the Republican Party. I know we've all been hearing this for weeks and months that these trend lines are not in their favor.

But there's a big concern that, yes, even though Rick Saccone could pull this out and yes, even though these absentee ballots might pull this race in this favor, this does not bode well for the upcoming midterms no matter what the president decides to tweet tomorrow morning. There are people inside the Republican Party who are deeply worried about what they're seeing tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: Is the president going to be making a public appearance tonight, that he might be on camera and might make some comments about this race? ACOSTA: I don't think so. Apparently, he's doing some fund-raising

this evening here in Beverly Hills. It's about as different a scene as you can imagine compared to Western Pennsylvania.

[22:45:05] But, no, I think that the most that we'll hear from the president would be tomorrow. He's supposed to hold a rally in St. Louis. We'll get a chance to hear from the President then.

And he -- you know, you saw those remarks that he made in Miramar down at the marine base in Southern California. Earlier today, he was -- he had a pep in his step, no doubt about it.

But this is something when you talk to Republican sources close to the White House, inside the White House, up on Capitol Hill, this is that steady drum beat, that undercurrent that worries them more than anything.

That the president could, perhaps, lose the House of Representatives come this fall and yes, while the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have wrapped up their investigation, when the House changes hands, the chairmanships change hands, the committees change hands.

And all of a sudden there is a doomsday scenario they worry about inside the White House, inside the Republican Party, sources that advise the president that you could, all of a sudden, have this Russia investigation reignited come 2019.


ACOSTA: That is the doomsday scenario that they're worried about. And every one of these Conor Lamb races, even if they lose this one tonight, they are concerned it moves them in that direction.

COOPER: All right. Jim Acosta, appreciate that from California. Tonight, nearly all the votes counted in Pennsylvania, as we've been talking about, absentee ballots could be the deciding factor, a tally underway. Stay with us.


BLITZER: A real nail biter in this special election in Pennsylvania. Take a look at it right now, 98 percent of the vote has been counted.

Conor Lamb, the Democrat, he is ahead. He is ahead by 755 votes over Rick Saccone, the Republican, 49.9 percent -- 49.5 percent, more than 215,000 votes have been cast. Only 755 votes separate these two candidates, not many. John King is over here at the magic wall.


BLITZER: I want to get to Washington County right now. Take a look at Washington County. Ninety-three percent of the vote -- we have counted so far 93 percent of the vote. Rick Saccone is ahead of Conor Lamb in Washington County. But I want it to bring in Larry Sparr. He is the director of

elections in Washington County. And I know, Larry, you and I have spoken. You have some new numbers that you've just tallied. Update our viewers. What does Rick Saccone have and what does Connor Lamb have.

LARRY SPARR, DIRECTOR OF ELECTIONS IN WASHINGTON COUNTY (via phone): Mr. Lamb has 22,114. Mr. Saccone has 25,615.

BLITZER: Let me repeat those numbers. Lamb, you said 22,100 -- what did you say?

SPARR: One hundred fourteen.

BLITZER: One hundred fourteen. And Rick Saccone, 25,615.

SPARR: Correct, sir.

BLITZER: That's the entire -- that's 100 percent of the vote with the exception of the absentee ballots, is that right?

SPARR: That's correct.

BLITZER: Now absentee ballots -- how many absentee ballots are there?

SPARR: OK, we had a total of 1,195 absentees returned.

BLITZER: And those will be counted only tomorrow, is that right?

SPARR: Well, we begin -- we started to prepare them tonight for counting, beginning to count the ballots tomorrow.

BLITZER: Why do you wait to count the absentee ballots? Is it about to see how close this contest?

SPARR: Right, so...

BLITZER: Those 1,195 absentee ballots, that clearly could make the difference in this entire election.

SPARR: That's correct.

BLITZER: So tell our viewers why you are waiting to finally tally those absentee ballots until tomorrow.

SPARR: Well, it's state law that we have to place the absentees in secure envelopes, seal them, send them back out to the precincts where the ballots had come from. Then the election boards at the precincts will take those ballots unopened, return them back to county.

Then we have to open those ballots at the county elections office, remove the ballots from the envelopes to prepare them for scanning tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: Tomorrow morning. Are there different rules for Washington County than Allegheny County? Because we were told by the Director of the Board of Elections in Allegheny County, they should have the results of the absentee ballots during the 11:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

SPARR: I would say so but they have a much huger staff than what we do. They have the people to handle that number of ballots. We don't.

BLITZER: Well stand by for a moment, Larry, because I want, John King, to explain these new numbers. Hundred percent of the vote in Washington County has now been tallied and you see, Rick Saccone is ahead.

KING: So here is what I want to do for you. Here is what we have officially right now because the new math he just gave you is not in our system yet -- now in the system yet. Before you started that conversation, we had Rick Saccone with a 2,841 vote lead in Washington County.

With the numbers, he has a 3,501 vote lead in Washington County, which means he has a net gain of 660 votes. We currently have Conor Lamb ahead by 755 votes, which means, add these numbers into the system, absent changes in anywhere else during that conversation, the leads goes down to 95 votes.


KING: So when the votes come in from Washington County, you will have Connor Lamb -- assuming we got no new votes in Allegheny or Westmoreland while we're having this conversation, Conor Lamb's lead by that math, once you get the full total in Washington county, a bigger margin, 660 net gain for Rick Saccone, makes it a 95-vote race as we wait for the absentee ballots here.

If the gentleman said we're going to do this tomorrow and obviously here where I can move this around and bring the county (Inaudible), to bring it out. Bring out Westmoreland here with 99 percent here as well.

Leaving much scribbles up in case you need to go back and do the math, write 100 percent in Allegheny. So we don't expect any more live votes. We are just waiting now for the absentees ballots that the gentleman said we should have by 11:15 or 11:30. And again, that was debate. We were waiting for this all night long at Washington County.

[22:55:02] Now we have the numbers up here up to 100 percent right now. And again, that's what tightens the race.

BLITZER: You see in Washington County right now, Rick Saccone with 25,615 votes and Conor Lamb, 22,114 -- 53 percent to 46 percent but those 1,195 absentee ballots in Washington County could make a huge difference. That is what we heard earlier, John, about 3,500 absentee ballots in Allegheny County.

KING: Allegheny County. And again, Gary Tuchman, with the gentleman -- the commissioner who is doing the counting, he said that he expected the last 10 precincts, so I think they will come momentarily. So as we get in to the hour, we'll get these here.

The question will be since they're -- if they're not going to count these votes until the tomorrow, the question is, what is the margin after we get these? Is the margin -- is the margin outside the grasp of these making a difference? We're going to do math for a while.

BLITZER: Right now, with the latest numbers, we just got -- it's a 95-vote difference. The Democrat is ahead by only 95 votes. Essentially this is a tie. We are waiting for the absentee ballots. We are not going anywhere.


BLITZER: Look at how close this contest is in the 18th congressional district in Pennsylvania. More than 220,000 votes have been counted. There is only a 95-vote advantage for the Democrat, Conor Lamb, over the Republican, Rick Saccone.