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Politics

President Trump rallies Pennsylvania Republicans before hotly contested special House election

Donald Trump
President Trump stops to briefly speak with reporters at the White House as he leaves for a political rally in the Pittsburgh area on Saturday.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

President Trump swooped into the Pittsburgh area on Saturday night in an 11th-hour bid to prop up Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone, who is struggling to fend off a Democratic opponent in a special election being watched across the country as a political sign ahead of the November midterm election.

“I need people who can help me. And this guy can really help me,” Trump said during the long, raucous rally in Moon Township, during which he trumpeted his recent move to impose new steel and aluminum tariffs on foreign trading partners and his plans to sit down with North Korea’s leader.

Republicans are increasingly anxious about avoiding a loss on Tuesday in a district Trump carried by 20 points in the 2016 election. Polls show Saccone, a state lawmaker who served in the Air Force, locked in a tight battle with Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine officer.

The congressional seat was vacated last year by Rep. Tim Murphy, an antiabortion Republican who resigned after media reports of text messages in which he urged his mistress to get an abortion.

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“It’s a crazy time out there,” Trump conceded, talking about the close race.

Running in a conservative western Pennsylvania district, Lamb has distanced himself from Democratic leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). But Trump warned the crowd that Lamb would vote the party line. Then he joked about the 33-year-old Lamb’s youthful appearance.

“I hear he’s nice looking,” he said. “I think I’m better looking than him. I do.”

Then Trump praised the Republican candidate.

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“Personally, I like Rick Saccone,” he said. “I think he’s handsome.”

Although the rally was ostensibly to support Saccone, 60, Trump spent most of the time revisiting his own favorite lines. He blasted the media as fake news, touted the country’s strong economy and bragged about his victory over Hillary Clinton 16 months ago.

Trump also said his reelection slogan would be “Keep America great,” an update to his “Make America great again” slogan from 2016.

Follow live coverage of the Trump administration on Essential Washington »

At another point, Trump said drug dealers should face harsher punishments, even the death penalty, because they’re responsible for so many deaths.

“They’re killing our kids. They’re killing our families. They’re killing our workers,” the president said.

He added, “I don’t think we should play games.”

Explaining his decision to accept an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the president said he would succeed in eliminating the regime’s nuclear weapons even though previous administrations have failed.

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Trump once mocked Kim as “little rocket man” and “a sick puppy,” but he cut off the crowd when his supporters booed Kim’s name.

“No, it’s very positive,” Trump said. “After the meeting you may do that, but now we have to be very nice, because let’s see what happens.”

chris.megerian@latimes.com

Twitter: @chrismegerian

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