Mar 13, 2018, 2:25 PM ET

Meet Rick Saccone, Pennsylvania GOP candidate hoping to stem a rising blue tide

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High profile Republicans — including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — have rallied around State Rep. Rick Saccone, a 60-year-old Air Force veteran, to help shore up his bid to win the House seat in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District special election.

It is a contest that is seen as a bellwether for the 2018 midterms and the latest referendum on the political impact of Trump's presidency. So far, some polls show the race within 5 points in a district that Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016.

For his part, Saccone has grasped tightly onto Trump’s agenda, campaigning on the slogan “defending the taxpayer” and thrown his support behind Republican tax reform and cuts, border security and repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Trump joined Saccone on the trail on Saturday in a last effort to sway voters ahead of Tuesday’s special election, calling on Pennsylvanians to elect the candidate who will keep “the agenda 'Make America Great' going.”

“I could not have asked for a stronger endorsement of our campaign ahead of the March 13 special election,” Saccone said after Saturday's rally.

However, the GOP candidate has faced an uphill battle on fundraising and his opponent, Democrat Conor Lamb, has far out-raised him and left him reliant on outside spending to combat the money gap.

Here’s a rundown of Saccone’s political history and unexpectedly tough campaign in the battleground state that delivered Trump the presidency.

An unusual resume

Saccone is pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-Trump conservative whose support for the GOP tax cuts, strengthening the military, and increasing border security closely align with the president’s views. He once even called himself “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

However, when it comes to campaigning, Saccone diverges with Trump’s successful strategy of running as an outsider, instead boasting of his decades of experience in Pennsylvania politics.

While the GOP candidate underscores his record in the state legislature, he also brings a wide-ranging resume to national politics.

The four-term state representative served in the United States Air Force as a special agent and is a former diplomatic representative in North Korea during President George W. Bush's adminsitration.

PHOTO: Republican Pennsylvania congressional candidate Rick Saccone and Vice President Mike Pence acknowledge the audience during a campaign event on Feb. 2, 2018, in Bethel Park, Penn.Pete Marovich/Getty Images
Republican Pennsylvania congressional candidate Rick Saccone and Vice President Mike Pence acknowledge the audience during a campaign event on Feb. 2, 2018, in Bethel Park, Penn.

Saccone worked as a television news anchor in South Korea, earned a doctorate in international affairs, and worked as a college political science professor. He is also the author of nine books.

The money race

Saccone’s greatest obstacle during this race — and the primary reason he’s facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from Lamb — is his opponent's fundraising powerhouse.

In the first two months of 2018, Lamb hauled in $3.33 million, compared to Saccone's $917,892, according to each campaign's Federal Election Commission filings.

Saccone has largely relied on super PACs and outside groups to support his run — bringing in nearly $10.3 million in total outside spending as of March 1.

Running on a Trump agenda in Trump Country

Saccone is a staunch ally of the president, campaigning on the priorities and agenda of the Trump administration, and pledging himself to be a “wingman” for Trump if elected.

Running on what he says are the “issues that President Trump has nationalized, the agenda that people have voted in,” Saccone is determined to cut taxes, cut government spending and reduce government regulation. He claims he was “Trump before Trump” since “most of those issues, I ran on in 2010.”

In January, Trump touted his support for Saccone, tweeting, “Rick is a great guy.”

Trump and Saccone shared the stage on Saturday at the “Make America Great Again” rally in the Pittsburgh area to deliver the final push to carry the Pennsylvania Republican over the finish line in the special election.

PHOTO: Rick Saccone, Republican candidate for the 18th Congressional District, speaks before his supporters during a campaign rally with Greene County coal miners on March 5, 2018, in Waynesburg, Pa. Antonella Crescimbeni/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Rick Saccone, Republican candidate for the 18th Congressional District, speaks before his supporters during a campaign rally with Greene County coal miners on March 5, 2018, in Waynesburg, Pa.

“The president's support is key to attaining victory on March 13,” Saccone said in his speech before Trump took the stage at a campaign rally over the weekend. “There’s no one I'd rather have in my corner than President Trump.”

Trump briefly mentioned his support for Saccone in his 75-minute stump speech, telling Pennsylvanians to “elect people that are going to back our agenda and fight for our values.”

“We need him,” Trump said. “We need Republicans. We need the votes. Otherwise they’re going to take away your taxes, your tax cuts, they’re going to take away your Second Amendment rights.”

And Saccone has tied the election right back to Trump.

“I hope [voters] judge it on the merits of my background and experience and qualifications,” Saccone told ABC News' Nightline last month. “But if it’s a referendum on Trump, this is Trump country.”

WATCH LIVE TONIGHT: You can watch livestreaming coverage of Pennsylvania’s special election as part of ABC News’ “18 for 18” coverage of the midterm elections starting at 8 p.m. ET on ABCNews.com or on the ABC News app available on the Apple App Store, GooglePlay Store, Apple TV App Store, and Roku Channel Store. Don’t forget to sign up for Midterm Elections Alerts to get more coverage of this year’s election season as par from our powerhouse politics team.

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  • rkb555

    Is he related to larry bird? He looks similar.

  • Bryan Thompson

    "If you hate Trumph, you hate God and America." That statement right there should disqualify this idiot from holding public office.

  • PhatDevil

    As I can remember, the GOP pretty much said Alabama was a done deal. How did that work out?

  • Renate

    His connection to Abu Ghraib is very interesting and shows his character.

  • Chuck

    According to this looney, all democrats hate trump, guns and god. No we actually hate You Mr. Sickone. Go dye your hair orange.

  • Chuck

    He even dyes his hair the same color as the CLOTUS. Right out of the same mold. This elections determines if Pennsylvania is part of the Northeast, or can continue to carry the moniker Pennsyltucky. If the states hadn't been so Gerrymandered by the republicans, this goof wouldn't have a chance. Maps are being redrawn and playtime is over for the GOP in Pennsylvania.

  • P bis

    Saccone is old and fat and is nothing but a mouthpiece without any ideas of his own. Vote the GOP out in 2018!

  • Skippy3504

    The rising blue tide? The tide that was reported to be turning Texas blue and where Democrats received a bit 40% of the vote in Texas statewide primary elections?

  • Prophet With Honor

    Conveniently not in his bio:
    His tenure at Abu Ghraib prison and his ties to Blackwater and Erik Prince.

  • Frank Goudy

    Since Trump supports Saccone and his opponent has the money, this should be interesting.

  • Lawrence Roth

    If Trump likes him you know he is a loser. That old saying is so true...."You can fool some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. Trump, your time is up!!!

  • faze009

    I'm not sure why the Republicans are rolling with the whole "I don't like the man but I like his policies" argument for Trump. That argument has been played time and time again. It's getting really old. You want Trump, then you want all of him, including his stormy nights.

  • Alex Ross

    The outcome is unsure. Not good for that part of country.

  • Center_Line

    Pence and his hypocritical anti-Christ Evangelist are going to run to the polls.And the Democrats will be there.Already in line.

  • FfloydZzepp

    If there are more Dems turning out there's nothing Saccone can do. Those voters hate his positions...