CANONSBURG (Pennsylvania) • The Democrat candidate claimed a congressional election in a Republican heartland in Pennsylvania, as a vote seen as a referendum on US President Donald Trump's performance remained officially too close to call early yesterday.
In an ominous sign for Republicans eight months before national mid-term elections, official results with all ballots from voting booths counted showed moderate Democrat Conor Lamb leading conservative Republican Rick Saccone by a fraction of a percentage point.
Mr Trump won the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District that they are contesting by almost 20 points in the 2016 presidential election.
With TV networks, which often call US elections, yet to predict a winner, officials were continuing to count several hundred absentee ballots to try and determine the result.
Democratic sources said that once those ballots were included, they expected Mr Lamb to have won the election by more than 400 votes.
"It took a little longer than we thought but we did it. You did it," Mr Lamb, a veteran of the US Marines, told cheering supporters late on Tuesday.
Speaking before Mr Lamb claimed victory, Mr Saccone - who has described himself as "Trump before Trump was Trump" - said the contest was not yet over.
"We're going to fight all the way to the end. You know I never give up," the 60-year-old state representative told supporters.
The strong showing by Mr Lamb, 33, seems certain to buoy Democrats nationally as they seek to win control of the US House of Representatives from Republicans in the November elections.
Republican dominance had been so strong in the district, a patchwork of small towns, farms and Pittsburgh suburbs, that Democrats ran no candidates in the previous two US House elections in the area. Mr Lamb's image as a moderate seemed to have worked in his favour.
Mr Saccone had led the race by more than 10 percentage points in January.
But Mr Lamb, a pro-gun Democrat with strong backing from unions, surged in the polls as Democratic voters sensed a chance to show their opposition to Mr Trump.
Mr Saccone, a former Air Force counter-intelligence officer, drew criticism towards the end of the campaign by saying some of his opponents "have a hatred for God".
The White House arranged a string of visits to energise Saccone supporters. Mr Trump himself held a campaign rally for Mr Saccone last weekend and on Tuesday he again voiced his backing.
The contest, to replace a Republican who resigned amid a scandal last year, was the latest good election showing for the Democrats, who also won a governor's race in Virginia and scored a US Senate upset in conservative Alabama.
The Pennsylvania result will have little bearing on the current balance of power in the House, but Democrats hope a win will boost their momentum as they try to pick up the 24 seats they need to gain control in November.