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Voters head to polls after Trump dove into a safe special House race

GOP candidate expected to crush Democratic rival in heart of Trump country

Fred Keller, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District speaks at a Trump campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday evening as President Donald Trump looks on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Fred Keller, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District speaks at a Trump campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday evening as President Donald Trump looks on. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

MONTOURSVILLE, Pa. — There was little political risk for President Donald Trump when Air Force One rolled to a stop in front of a series of tree-dotted peaks his campaign used a backdrop for a campaign rally to boost a Republican candidate who is almost assured a House seat.

Voters here head to the polls Tuesday for a special election that almost certainly will send a Republican to the House to replace former Rep. Tom Marino. Almost no one interviewed Monday by Roll Call believes the outcome will produce anything other than GOP state Rep. Fred Keller defeating Democrat Marc Friedenberg.

“Oh, it’ll be Republican who wins,” said Kimber Young, who was working Monday along a tree-lined downtown street in neighboring Williamsport. She described herself as not paying close attention to politics until Trump won the presidency.

[Three things to watch in Pennsylvania’s 12 District special election]

Though she confessed to not knowing a lot about the candidates running in various races Tuesday in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, she knew what issue on which she wants the winner of the House race to focus: “More jobs is always good.”

[Trump heads to Pennsylvania, where China trade war is hitting home]

In a series of interviews Monday, local residents said they think Trump is personally responsible for bringing back manufacturing jobs to their state.

“The economy is doing really well,” said Kevin Williams, Lycoming County’s deputy clerk of courts, on a sun-drenched side street in Williamsport Monday during his lunch break. “He’s fulfilled a lot of his campaign promises.”

And on the special House race, Williams said of Marino, who stepped down earlier this year: “He did very well … in Washington. I think Keller will do alright, even though coming into the minority party will be really tough.”

Williams also suggested the next congressman from the district should try to steer more federal funds to cities like this one, Williamsport and other rural communities. “The big money always seems to go to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia,” he said.

Lycoming County is deep red country — read: Trump country.

The late Sen. John McCain of Arizona won the county over eventual President Barack Obama in 2008, 61.2 percent to 37.1 percent. The county went for now-Utah Sen. Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, 65.6 percent to Obama’s 32.5 percent. And Trump cruised there in 2016, shellacking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, 69.6 percent to 25.4 percent.

The president recorded a robocall for Keller on Monday, which his campaign blasted out to reporters.

[In Pennsylvania’s Trump country, relief that he’s restoring ‘the old ways’]

“Tomorrow is Election Day, and the winner of the special election will go directly to Congress. I need you to get out and vote for Fred Keller, a great guy who will help me Keep America Great,” Trump said on the call. “As a state Representative, Fred fought against tax increases, supported our vets, and stood up for our 2nd Amendment rights. He’s always been with us.

In Congress, Fred will work with me to lower your taxes, secure our border, and strengthen our military, unlike Nancy Pelosi and the radical liberal socialist Democrats who only obstruct and oppose our tremendous accomplishments,” Trump told voters.

Before Trump arrived at the airport hangar to address his supporters, state and local officials warmed up the crowd by praising Trump and his policies. They barely mentioned Keller or the House race.

For instance, Donald Trump Jr., conjured some of the same chants his father does — including a “Lock her up!” chant about Clinton — as he warmed up the crowd for around 45 minutes. He railed against the Justice Department’s special counsel probe of his father’s 2016 campaign, touted the state of the Pennsylvania and U.S. economies — and painted all Democrats as socialists that want to “tax you to death.”

“Go get ’em, Fred,” Trump told Keller on stage Monday night, dubbing him “tough” on crime and a needed asset in the House who has a record of lowering taxes. As for Friedenberg, the president conjured loud boos when he dubbed him a “radical socialist” who favors “open borders.”

At several points, Trump urged the crowd to get out to vote on Tuesday. Near the rally’s conclusion, he implored the crowd to call the family and friends and make sure they vote for Keller.

Trump supporters inside the not-quite-packed hangar — Trump claimed it was before he left the White House — said they intend to vote a straight-GOP ticket on Tuesday

“I don’t think all Democrats are socialists — they’re not,” Daryl Bucknor said as he leaned against temporary fencing between the public and media areas. “But I’ll vote for all the Republicans tomorrow. For sure.”

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