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Democrat Conor Lamb pulls ahead, but the Pennsylvania special election is too close to call

The DCCC is already celebrating.

GOP PA Congressional Candidate Rick Saccone Holds Election Night Event Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Democrat Conor Lamb looks likely to have won an incredibly close special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, beating out Republican candidate Rick Saccone in a deeply conservative district that the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates R+11.

As of midnight Tuesday, official outlets deemed the race too close to call. Though a trickle of absentee election ballots were still to be counted late Tuesday night, some election watchers predicted Lamb would win, albeit by an extremely close margin.

Around midnight, Lamb had 49.9 percent of the vote, compared to Saccone’s 49.5 percent, meaning the two candidates were separated by just 847 votes.

But before the race was officially called, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was already celebrating.

“I want to congratulate Conor Lamb and his team of grassroots supporters on an incredible victory,” said DCCC Chair Rep. Ben Ray Luján (NM) in an email sent out around 11:30 pm.

In a scorching statement, Luján blasted his Republican opponents for dumping millions into a race that they were predicted to lose.

“These results should terrify Republicans,” he said. “Despite their home field advantage and the millions of dollars outside groups poured into this race, Republicans found that their attacks against Conor, including their unpopular tax scam, were not believable. There are more than one hundred districts more favorable for Democrats than this one and we look forward to competing hard in every single one.”

Even with the race too close to call, the result doesn’t look good for Republicans, who have held on to PA-18 with an iron grip since 2003.

The newly open seat was held by former Rep. Tim Murphy since 2003, who was so secure in his seat that he often failed to attract a Democratic challenger. Murphy suddenly resigned in October amid revelations that he had pressured a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair to have an abortion. But even after he stepped down, national Democrats didn’t think they could compete in the special election, one Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee operative told Vox.

The district went for Donald Trump by nearly 20 points in the 2016 presidential election. Conventional wisdom suggested that Saccone — a candidate who once declared himself “Trump before Trump was Trump” — would do well in a district that turned out in droves for Trump. But in recent weeks, Republicans were in full panic mode, dumping more than $9 million into the race.

Lamb’s performance shows they were right to be worried.