RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The vote tally is still too close to call in Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania, but both candidates spoke like winners last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CONOR LAMB: It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICK SACCONE: Don't give up, and we'll keep it up. We're going to win it.
MARTIN: That was Democratic Conor Lamb first, followed by Republican Rick Saccone. The two faced off yesterday in the contest for the state's 18th Congressional District, and it was unexpectedly tight heading into election day. Eventually, last night, it was declared too close to call, though that didn't stop Lamb from giving a victory speech. NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow was up last night waiting for the results, probably hasn't slept yet. He's with us now from Robinson Township.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Who needs sleep when...
DETROW: ...There are votes to count?
MARTIN: Right? Are there still votes to count?
DETROW: Well, there are fewer votes to count than before. Things are actually a little more clearer than when we talked about a half hour ago. We had been waiting to hear what would happen with the absentee ballots from Washington County, a part of the district which had gone to for Saccone over Conor Lamb. But those are now in, and in the absentee ballots - about 1,200 of them - Conor Lamb actually gained about 100 votes, which is another sign of an enthusiasm gap among the parties. Democrats seem more eager to get those absentee ballots in. So Democrat Conor Lamb now has a lead of a whopping 677 votes at this point.
MARTIN: Wow, which is much...
DETROW: Now, Rick's...
MARTIN: It's a bigger margin than it was last night, for sure.
DETROW: That's right. When, at one point, you're leading by just 95 votes, I think you're thrilled with a 677-vote lead. Rick Saccone has not conceded. The AP still hasn't called it. But there is a recount process in Pennsylvania, but it's not automatic, and it would be tough to pull off on a really tight timeline.
MARTIN: Walk us through what happened last night. I imagine it was kind of crazy watching these margins expand and contract.
DETROW: Yeah. I was at Lamb's campaign event. And, you know, remember, this is a district that Trump beat Clinton by 20 points that has so - gone so Republican, the Democrats didn't even bother running a candidate in 2016 and 2014. But Democrats felt confident. They thought they could do this upset. It was a packed room. And for a while, Lamb had a lead of about 6,000 or so votes, and everyone there was feeling comfortable and happy. And then it got smaller and smaller and smaller - and like I said, at one point, just 95 votes.
So there was an interesting moment at one point. CNN had a camera inside the warehouse where Allegheny County was counting its absentee ballots. This is the part of the district where Lamb did really well. It's the Pittsburgh suburbs. And they announced on TV that in the absentee ballots being counted, Lamb had won more than 700 votes and suddenly had a much larger lead. The room exploded. They were very happy with a lead that's still pretty small.
DETROW: ...And still left this lace - race up in the air. And finally, just before 1 a.m., Conor Lamb came out and declared victory even though Rick Saccone had not conceded.
MARTIN: So, I mean, let's say - let's just say that Saccone wins - right? - like, even though Conor Lamb is looking pretty good at this point. I mean, still, that's not great news for Republicans because it was so close. I mean, that - that's not going to portend good things, I imagine, for them when they look at the midterms.
DETROW: That's right. This is a district Republicans should have won easily. The one thing a lot of people are focusing on is the results in the Pittsburgh suburbs. One Republican operative from Pennsylvania called them apocalyptic. These are longtime Republican strongholds that have broken hard for Democrats, and that's something we've seen in all of these special elections. And that's why Democrats nationally think they can get to their House majority through suburban districts.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow for us. Thanks, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.