Republican concedes to Democrat in close US House race in Pennsylvania

WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) - The Republican candidate in a close U.S. House of Representatives special election on March 13 in Pennsylvania conceded to his Democratic opponent on Wednesday, cementing a Democratic upset in a long-time Republican area that President Donald Trump handily won in 2016.

In an ominous sign for Trump's Republicans eight months before national midterm elections, moderate Democrat Conor Lamb led conservative Rick Saccone by a fraction of a percentage point in the race for the southwestern Pennsylvania seat.

Trump won the district by almost 20 points in the presidential election. He campaigned for Saccone, who started the race well ahead of Lamb.

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Pennsylvania special election -- Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone
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Pennsylvania special election -- Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden attends a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb (C) Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb talks with supporters at a rally Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Surrounded by campaign volunteers, Rick Saccone, Republican Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, takes questions form reporters at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: A cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump sits against the wall after Rick Saccone, Republican Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, spoke to reporters at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: (L to R) Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, and USW International President Leo Gerardand gesture together after Lamb spoke at a rally at the United Steelworkers Building, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Campaign volunteers await the arrival of Rick Saccone, Republican Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania� 18th district, speaks at a rally at the United Steelworkers Building, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, PA - JANUARY 13: Members of the audience listen to Democrat Conor Lamb, a former U.S. attorney and US Marine Corps veteran running to represent Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, at the American Legion Post 902 on January 13, 2018 in Houston, Pennsylvania in the southwestern corner of the state. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District next week in a bid to help Lamb's republican opponent, Rick Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden visited Pittsburgh in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
A man watches U.S. President Donald Trump speak in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Union carpenters wait to hear former Vice President Joe Biden speak in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with special election Republican candidate Rick Saccone upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: A supporter wears a sticker in support of Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania� 18th district, at a rally at the United Steelworkers Building, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Rob and Carolyn Trozzi of Waynesburg pose with a Trump t-shirt after listening to Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone speak with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Vincent Fusca places a campaign sign on his truck for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone before the candidate met with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, PA - JANUARY 13: Democrat Conor Lamb, a former U.S. attorney and US Marine Corps veteran running to represent Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, before a speech to an audience at the American Legion Post 902 on January 13, 2018 in Houston, Pennsylvania in the southwestern corner of the state. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District next week in a bid to help Lamb's republican opponent, Rick Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Conor Lamb (L), the Democratic candidate in the special US congressional election in Pennsylvania's 18th District to be held March 13, 2018, greets a supporter (C) and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (R) during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday, March 9, 2018. US President Donald Trump won the district comfortably in the 2016 presidential race, but Lamb is running neck and neck with his Republican opponent Rick Saccone. / AFP PHOTO / Michael Mathes (Photo credit should read MICHAEL MATHES/AFP/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: A volunteer places campaign signs for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone before he spoke with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: A sign in support of Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania� 18th district, hangs in the lobby of the United Steelworkers Building before a rally for Lamb, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
MOON TOWNSHIP, PA - MARCH 10: President Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters at the Atlantic Aviation Hanger on March 10, 2018 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. The president made a visit in a bid to gain support for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone who is running for 18th Congressional District in a seat vacated by Tim Murphy. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump supporters attends the Make America Great Again Rally on March 10, 2018 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. President Trump travelled to Pennsylvania to speak at a ' Make America Great Again ' rally on behalf of Republican candidate Rick Saccone. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Just got off the phone with my opponent, @RickSaccone4PA, who congratulated me & graciously conceded last Tuesday's election," Lamb said on Twitter.

An official at Saccone's campaign confirmed the candidate had conceded.

The earliest the final election result could be certified is March 26, but the final tally could be unknown for weeks.

Lamb led Saccone by 627 votes unofficially, state returns showed last week; Lamb had 49.8 percent of the vote and Saccone 49.6 percent.

House Republicans had called the race unique, noting that Lamb, 33, a Marine Corps veteran, had distanced himself from his party's leaders and staked out positions to the right of many Democrats.

The patchwork of small towns, farms and Pittsburgh suburbs that make up Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district has been so staunchly Republican that Democrats did not field candidates in the previous two House elections.

Come November, the district will cease to exist because boundaries have been redrawn. Both Lamb and Saccone are expected to run again, though in different districts.

The election, held to replace a Republican who resigned amid a scandal last year, was the latest forceful electoral showing for Democrats, who also won a governor's race in Virginia and scored a U.S. Senate upset in conservative Alabama.

Lamb's strong showing could buoy Democrats nationally as they seek to win control of the House from Republicans in the November elections. Democrats see 118 Republican-held districts in play. If they flip 24 seats, they could reclaim a House majority.

The Lamb win vindicates a strategy Democrats are using in some races to enlist candidates whose positions and ideologies are well suited to the district even while conflicting in significant ways with the positions of the Democratic leadership in Washington.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; additional reporting by David Morgan; editing by Toni Reinhold and Grant McCool)

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