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Rick Saccone Back To Battling For Congressional Seat


Pennsylvania holds its primaries on Tuesday. And we're going to hear now about one of those races. You may remember the name Rick Saccone. He's the Republican who narrowly lost a special House election to Democrat Connor Lamb in March. The loss was embarrassing for Saccone and the GOP in what's been a Republican-friendly district. But as An-li Herring of member station WESA explains, Saccone is not letting that loss deter him. In fact, he's running again for another House seat.

AN-LI HERRING, BYLINE: Saccone sits at his campaign headquarters with one staffer. It's a big difference from before the special election when dozens of volunteers were bustling around the office. But Saccone says he's happy to be free from the national media attention and outside groups that he says distorted his message.

RICK SACCONE: Remember those outside groups spent that money not on me. They spent it on their own message - mostly Nancy - anti-Nancy Pelosi message. It wasn't on Rick Saccone. It wasn't helping Rick Saccone to tell Rick Saccone's story.

HERRING: Saccone's loss in the special election may well haunt him in the May 15 primary.

GUY RESCHENTHALER: We are all there to support Rick's account. The president was within the district twice. His children came on several occasions. The vice president came.

HERRING: That's Saccone's primary opponent, State Senator Guy Reschenthaler. Reschenthaler says the special election was such a debacle that many in his party urged him to run against Saccone.

RESCHENTHALER: So I think that voters deserve another choice, and it's time to put a new candidate forward who has a history of winning, like myself.

HERRING: Reschenthaler appears to have the backing of the state's Republican establishment. He's raised lots of money. And at age 35, says he's a fresh face.

RESCHENTHALER: I think Republican voters want somebody who's new.

HERRING: Saccone, who's 60, has the support of anti-abortion and pro-gun rights activists. That may work to his advantage because the district will become much more Conservative due to court-ordered redistricting. But in terms of policy, Republican strategist Charlie Gerow says little separates the two candidates.

CHARLIE GEROW: You've got two conservative Republicans, so it becomes much more of a personality-driven race.

HERRING: So far, the candidates have attacked each other's resumes. Saccone has said he served as a diplomat in North Korea in the early-2000s, but Reschenthaler's campaign says he exaggerated his work there. Meanwhile, Saccone says Reschenthaler is little more than an ambitious career politician.

SACCONE: He's jumped and hopped from one job to another, never finishing a term in any one position that he's been in.

HERRING: Saccone's loss in the special election has energized some of his supporters, including Kim Stolfer who's a local gun-rights activist.

KIM STOLFER: If anything, it's brought a sense of saltiness because of some in the national media who have criticized him.

HERRING: Given the district's new, more Conservative complexion, whoever prevails in this primary stands a good chance of winning the seat this fall.

For NPR News, I'm An-li Herring. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

An-Li became a reporter while completing her law degree at Stanford. In law school, she wrote about housing affordability, criminal justice and economic development, among other topics. She also served as the intern to NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, helping Ms. Totenberg to cover the U.S. Supreme Court and other legal matters. Originally from Pittsburgh, An-Li interned with the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before joining WESA in August 2017.