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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Key Race Alert. CNN America's Choice 2018. Aired 11-Midnight ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WOLF BLITZER, AMERICA'S CHOICE 2018 HOST, CNN: is only a 95-vote advantage for the Democrat, Conor Lamb over the Republican, Rick Saccone. Look at this, 109,945 votes for Conor Lamb. A 109,850 votes for Rick Saccone. 49.7 percent, 49.7 percent. Those are the numbers right now. 99 percent of the vote has been counted.

Let's go over to John King. We are waiting now. There are a few thousand absentee ballots in Allegheny County and Washington County. Let me go to Gary Tuchman, our first, right away. You are over there in Allegheny County, we expect momentarily, Gary, to get the absentee -- the absentee ballot count in Allegheny County.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. This is the warehouse in Allegheny County, where the absentee ballots are being counted. At least 3,000 of them. You can see, it is empty, because they have finished five minutes were they are done with the count, what is the count? We're about to find out, in a private room right to my right, they are now uploading the information, they are going to get it all together. They will then come out to us and tell us the total number of votes in this county. And I couldn't tell the total number of absentee votes. They're going to tell us the total number of votes, that are voted for today and the absentee ballots, together, who will then be -- our job, right here, to use our mathematical ability, to figure out what the absentees balloting was, 14,614 votes, that is how many more votes the Democrats got over the Republican here. Now, we are going to come in with the votes that were kept today, with the absentee ballots, we will soon find out. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Right. Momentarily, we will get the results there. John King, the absentee ballots in Allegheny County and Washington County, could make a huge difference.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I was just told right before we came on back on the air. Two precincts out in Westmoreland County here. Again, this an area Rick Saccone is running his -- running strong. 57 percent, two precinct out, the votes that is, you can assume, that on the race right now, were 95 vote lead, if it continues to lead, that Rick Saccone might cut in some from that. How much? We don't know a weigh on those two precincts.

After that, you are actually correct. Green County, we're at 100 percent, it is a small county, so, any absentees here, we don't expect to be a significant amount. Here in Washington County, we just talked to the commissioner, he says they are not going to count this until tomorrow, because of the manpower issue. And we are waiting to this -- this is 3,000 -- 3,000 here, where Conor Lamb is ahead at a 95 race -- 95 vote race at the moment. The margin here is going to be incredibly significant to the final outcome here. If -- because there is...

BLITZER: All right. Hold on a minute, Gary Tuchman, you are back in Allegheny County, I understand, you have the absentee ballot numbers.

TUCHMAN: Yes, were Mark Wolosik, is with us, he is the Election Director in this county, I will tell you very quickly. It's very good for the Democrat in this county. The Democrat, Lamb, got 1,930 absentee votes. Republican, Saccone, 1,178 votes by a 752 vote margin, the Democrat increased its lead in the county. Is my interpretations correct?

MARK WOLOSIK, THE ELECTION DIRECTOR ALLEGHENY COUNTY: That is correct. Yes.

TUCHMAN: How long did the uploading process take?

WOLOSIK: It probably took about five minutes.

TUCHMAN: All right. Some counting-- I'm counting, there is about, a little over 3100 votes that were cast. Absentee, you sent out 4100 to a thousand votes weren't sent -- weren't brought back.

WOLOSIK: That is correct.

TUCHMAN: OK. So, let me read it one more time the absentee ballot in here in Allegheny County, the Democrat, Lamb, 1930 votes. He is making sure I'm accurate. The Republican, Saccone, 1178 votes. That is a 752 vote margin. Lamb over Saccone here in Allegheny County. In the voting itself, the voting today, it was a 56,725 with 42,111, so by more than 14,000 votes, the Democrat won here. He's increased it, with his absentee ballots, by the total of 752 more votes. So, that is positive news for the Democrat, Lamb in his bid to win this congressional seat. Wolf back to you.

BLITZER: Thank very much, Gary. And I want to point out in Washington County, they are not going to count the absentee ballots, John, until tomorrow. But Larry Spar, the Director of elections there, told us that it was the absentee ballots, 1195, but in Washington County, as opposed to Alleghany County, they won't be counted until tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Won't be counted be counted until tomorrow, and then, we're at 95, then we just add that in, as far as (inaudible) 847 up here, so now, Allegheny is done.

Today's vote, the absentee vote done, Conor Lamb has 847 vote lead. And here is what we waiting on then. So, we have -- makes sure that is up, so I can do this. Two precincts out here, Rick Saccone leading in the county. Again 847 is the difference, if it tracks the rest of the night, Rick Saccone will pick up some votes there. Washington County at 100 percent, as you mentioned, absentee ballots

come tomorrow. Westmoreland absentee ballots count, tomorrow. 847 votes, may change by a few, with the final precincts here, but otherwise Conor Lamb with a lead, depending on absentee votes being counted in the two counties that had voted Republican tonight. The question is, did the absentee ballots track the live voting today and if so, how much does Rick Saccone gain? Is it enough. If it's 847 margin and you got a thousand in change here and a thousand in change here, you can do the math at home, Rick Saccone is going to have to win those absentee ballots by pretty significant percentage to make up the 847 votes, but in the hunt.

[23:05:13] BLITZER: Yes. It was -- what 90 votes before those absentee ballots in Allegheny County were counted? They counted them very quickly. As we pointed out earlier, Washington County, the 1,195 absentee ballots, they will only be counted tomorrow morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right you got absentee ballots here. Absentee here. Couple thousand combined, plus in change for the 847 vote margin as they begin those two counts. We're going to be tracking those officials tomorrow and indulging them to speed up the count.

BLITZER: I mean, Green County, that is the smallest county, only about 2 percent of the vote in the -- have they counted it? Do we know if there are probably absentee ballots there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have not received that data, if they had.

BLITZER: 100 percent of the vote, is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is 100 percent of the votes. Again, so you are looking at here, a small percentage of vote. But, still, if eight -- if it's eight, there are a couple hundred down here. We have the numbers up earlier, I don't know if we have the total number in Green County that we can bring up here, but 847 votes, by our best account with perhaps a precinct or two still to come in. So the vote count tonight, we should get a little bit more, the final two precincts in Westmoreland County, if they report tonight, I don't know if there is a glitch or something like that. 847 counts to count two thousand plus.

BLITZER: Look at Allegheny county 100 percent of the vote is in including the absentee ballots, so that county is done. That is over with. The two other counties where they still have absentee's ballots, you take a look over there, you still have absentee ballots, but those are Republican counties. You take a look at the number of absentee's ballots up there in Green County, there is 203 absentee ballots in Washington County. We have been pointing out 1,195. They will be counted tomorrow morning, Westmoreland, 1108 absentee ballots. So they still have to count 3,206 absentee ballots in this three counties largely red Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, so more than 3,000 absentee ballots to count. Conor Lamb enters the count with the 847 vote lead. And start looking at the percentages. Rick Saccone get 57 percent of those absentee ballots? Here? Does he get 53 percent of the absentee ballots here? Does he get roughly 57, 58 percent of the absentee ballots here, do the math? We'll be here tomorrow, counting votes of this absentees ballots, without a doubt, Rick Saccone is going to go to bed tonight, losing by a 147 votes. There are enough votes there, if he wins by a decent percentage to make it up. It will take a lot though.

BLITZER: If Rick Saccone, really does well in those three counties with the absentees ballots, he could potentially make that up the 847 margin that Conor Lamb has.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question is, do -- again do the absentee ballots which generally track the vote? But there is one campaign had a better absentee ballot operation on the ground there, 57 percent here, 53 percent here, 58 percent here. So if you are Rick Saccone you're thinking, this is -- this is my part of the district, count the votes.

BLITZER: All right. Now let's go to Jason Carroll, he is over Atlanta headquarters, out there in western Pennsylvania, they must be pretty nervous as they look at this numbers coming in.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf it's been a roller coaster ride, you remember in the beginning the evening, the room was filled with a lot of people who were very enthused by the numbers early on. But the mood start to shift as the night started to wears on. Some more numbers started to could come in. The latest numbers showing folks here feeling, more excited when I spoke to a senior campaign adviser, they still feel like they can eek out the win.

All night I've been checking in with them and they've been saying they feel optimistic. They've been saying all that night. Some of that might be a little bit of a spin. But I can tell you throughout the night, they have said that they felt optimistic. They really feel they made a strong effort, especially with the labor vote, especially outside of Allegheny County and some of the more rural parts of the district. But so far they are please with some of the numbers that they are seeing from those absentee votes coming in from Allegheny County, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jason, (inaudible) we'll have to wait and see what the remaining absentee ballots that will show up. Probably not going to know that until tomorrow morning. Right now, Connor Lamb with 847 vote lead over Rick Saccone, the Republican. Anderson, over to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, BREAKING NEWS SHOW HOST: Thanks very much. Everybody is hiding their rice crispy treats here. Michael do you think it is possible they could they could try to count the ballots in Washington?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I think it is possible now given the interest and the realization that the race wouldn't be otherwise decided until tomorrow, it's not definitive, but it's possible they are reconsidering their decision in Washington County and maybe will count the ballots this evening. COOPER: Are you saying that based on somebody you talked to?

SMERCONISH: I am. I am, but I'm not reporting 100 percent that they will. I know it's being considered.

COOPER: OK. Senator?

RICK SANTORUM, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: The bottom line is there is (inaudible) 3,200 vote's absentee votes out there which means Rick Saccone to overcome this, has to get probably 63 percent of that. Conor Lamb outperformed his vote in Allegheny County by 2 or 3 percent on the absentees. Let's assume because they're Saccone County's, he out performs his percentage by 2 or 3 percent, that get seemed to the high 50 within a bit of 60. So, now it will narrows it down and you may have a recount, but I think the likelihood of him being -- well there is also two precincts in Westmoreland County, so we can wait and see this number may narrow.

[23:10:21] COOPER: You were hedging towards saying Lamb has.

SANTORUM: I think it is clear, I would rather in Conor Lamb's shoes right now than Rick Saccone.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. When you look at that 3,200 number of absentee ballots that are left in Washington and Westmoreland, it is -- the math is clear you got to get to 64, 63 percent of the votes -- those votes to make up that 847 vote lead that Conor Lamb has. Not saying it's not possible. Certainly it is.

COOPER: There is no automatic recount, right?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. You have to call for it. But I was just hearing from a Republican strategist who said either way there is going to be a recount, one way or another. And that both sides would probably want one or the looser would want one.

SANTORUM: Generally don't change much.

BORGER: Right.

SANTORUM: This is -- this is a close enough race it gets down to a couple hundred votes, it's possible, but again it generally doesn't change that much.

BORGER: Right, but if it gets down to less.

SANTORUM: If it gets down to less.

BORGER: If it gets down to less, like eight votes.

SANTORUM: It definitely could change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It also depends on whether one of the campaigns or one of the parties was actually working and organizing absentee ballots. At least from the Allegheny results you would think that Lamb was. I don't know who was. But they wouldn't necessarily just work it in a county good for them. They would encourage Democrats.

COOPER: So Jason, if Conor Lamb does pulls this it out tomorrow morning what is the White House -- what are Trump supporters, what are they going to be saying? Bad candidate?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think they're going to be pointing the fact of the big Trump bump that Saccone got on the home stretch. The fact that they closed the 5 point gap and you talk about some of the other things the Trump folks did behind the scenes, there was a robo call from the President yesterday. The Trump campaign shared all their data with Saccone campaign.

COOPER: Donald Trump Jr. was down there for a long time.

MILLER: And they had a whole number of folks coming thru, you have the tariffs announcement, other jobs and economic announcement that had been gone over the past week. I think the Trump people will point that fact that if you want to have some additional enthusiasm down the home stretch, bring in the president.

COOPER: Kirstin.

SANTORUM: Can I say one thing? You also had the firing of Rex Tillerson. If it's down to 100 tor 200 votes, wait until tomorrow. And do something like this, which is not going to be helpful in suburban.

MILLER: Trump supporters were excited by that.

COOPER: Kirsten, what were you going to say?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know, I think I was going to respond to what you say, but I don't know what you were saying. Oh, I don't think -- I don't think that even if there was a bump there is a point that he was down so far to start with and that this is again, we have said it a million times, the district of Donald Trump won by 20 points. It has been, you know, people there vote for Republicans typically. And the fact of the matter is, Republicans are freaking out, I mean already. They were already freaking out before this happened. They see a wave coming. And I think people can say things publicly differently, but that is actually what is going on.

COOPER: Do not go to sleep, we will get new votes from Washington county. All eyes are on the absentees ballots, which could be decisive. This race is still hanging in the balance. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:17:17] BLITZER: Extremely, extremely close race in Pennsylvania, the 18th congressional district. Right now 99 percent of the vote is in. The Democrat Conor Lamb has 847 vote advantage over Rick Saccone, the Republican, more than 220,000 votes had been counted so far. 111,875 for Conor Lamb. 111,028 votes for Rick Saccone. It is 49.9 percent to 49.5 percent, 847 vote advantage for the Democrat. Let us go over to John King, John, taking a close look right now at Washington County. Because there are what, 1,195 absentee ballots that have yet to be counted and we are getting some new information right now. Larry Spar, is joining us once again on the (inaudible), the Director of elections in Washington County. Earlier Larry, you were kind enough to tell us, you are going to wait until tomorrow morning, to count those absentee ballots, but that has now changed. Update our viewers.

LARRY SPAR, DIRECTOR OF ELECTIONS, WASHINGTON COUNTY: Yes, sir, that is our usual procedure. And we have to remove the ballots from the envelopes, we are in the process and doing that right now. And we had discussions and what we're going to do is scan those ballots tonight. Once we are done removing all the ballots from the envelopes. And we're also going to do a hand count, since it's so close. Once we scan the ballots, electronically we'll also do a hand count.

BLITZER: So you're going to stay up late and count the 1,195 ballots. Will you release the tally, the results of those absentee ballot all at once or partially as they are counted?

SPAR: No sir, we release them all at once.

BLITZER: How long do you think this process Larry in your experience in counting absentee ballots, how long do you think it will take for us to get the final absentee ballot count in Washington County.

SPAR: It's probably going to take us several hours, sir.

BLITZER: Several hours you think.

SPAR: Yes, sir, yes.

BLITZER: And I just want to confirm. 1,195 is that the exact number of absentee ballots.

SPAR: 1,195. Now, you have to consider -- you have to consider that each of those ballots has a bar code on them with an address label for return. We electronically scan those bar codes to account for that ballot. And sometimes you may have one or two or three ballots upon scanning the bar code that may miss scanning.

BLITZER: So you're saying even though you have 1,195 ballots there may be a handful that aren't necessarily going to be officially counted. Is that right.

[23:20:03] SPAR: That is right, sir. That is why we'll pick them up in the hand count and also.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure -- those have been confirmed right?

SPAR: I'm sorry, sir.

BLITZER: The 1,195 have been returned, right.

SPAR: Yes. That is on electric produce report created by scanning those bar codes.

BLITZER: And the reason you decided to do it tonight, is because of the nature of the race, how close it is. Right?

SPAR: Oh, it's very close, that is correct.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this before in your county.

SPAR: I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this before in your county?

SPAR: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You have, this close.

SPAR: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: OK. Good. That is why every vote is important, as we like to say, and it shows us how significant this contest is. We'll stay very close in touch with you Larry and update our viewers as the count with this absentee ballots comes in. Thanks so much for joining us.

SPAR: Yes, sir you're welcome.

BLITZER: All right. Larry Spar is the Director of elections in Washington County. This is Washington County right now 100 percent of the vote John is in, but they still have 1,195 absentee ballots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As they count though, let's assume they're all counted for sake argument. Here is the challenge for Rick Saccone. You down 847 votes. You think wow, 1195 in a county I'm wining, 1800 over here in Westmoreland County, the county he is winning. You think I'm in play. He is in play. However, he needs depending -- I want to come back over for one second. There is a couple of precincts still out here. So the math I am about to give is ball park in the sense, you have to wait. A couple more precincts here, we hope to come in tonight. We're checking on the delays on this two precincts, still out of Westmoreland County, where Rick Saccone is getting 57 percent of the vote so. 847 votes, Conor Lamb ahead right now districtwide. Assume Rick Saccone, cuts into a little bit here. Here is the issue.

If you look at absentee ballots here and the absentee ballots here and the absentee ballots down in Green County, a much smaller number down here, 203 down here. Pull you back to the entire district. Rick Saccone is going to have to win 60 percent plus, maybe as high as 63 percent. Really depends on this last two precincts give us, so, is he in the hunt? He is in the hunt. However, you look here. 53 percent today. He has to way over perform in absentee ballots, what he did in the live voting.

Down here 58 percent. If you round that up, again has to over perform that. When the absentee ballots are counted. 57 percent over here, by my math if anyone has different math, please jump out and shout. It is coming up to 60 percent plus, perhaps as high as 62, 63 percent. Depending on what we get, when the final two precincts, assuming they come in tonight, come in here. So, this is as close as it gets. Not as close as it gets. We have seen closer actually. But 847 votes here enough to make up the difference? But in each of the three counties in 18th district, when they count the absentee ballots, the Republican has to over perform in the absentee count than he did in the live voting today and by a decent chunk. A chunk that many people will tell you statically, unlikely, but it is in the hunt. It is possible.

BLITZER: To overcome that 847 vote advantage that Conor Lamb, the Democrats has over Rick Saccone. Let us go over to, Jake you've been doing reporting. Are you getting some new information, more votes are coming in?

JAKE TAPPER, AMERICAN JOURNALIST CARTOONIST: That is right. And John just explained all the things that would need to happen for Rick Saccone to be able to (inaudible) and pass Conor Lamb's 847-vote margin, right now. We just spoke with Beth Lechman, she is the election director in Westmoreland County, where there is an outstanding 1808 absentee ballots that are waiting to be counted. They are feeding them into the tabulation machines right now and they are going to count them this evening.

And we should have a final number from them, within the next 30 to 40 minutes. That is from Westmoreland County. So it does looks as though with Washington County deviating from normal procedure and Westmoreland County doing this, we should have an answer sometime before the sun comes up about whether or not, Rick Saccone is able to pass Conor Lamb who is still up by a very, very narrow margin, 847. But it might be enough. We'll see.

BLITZER: Its amazing 847-vote margin, more than 220,000 votes already counted. Shows how close this contest is. Let's not forget, this is a district that Donald Trump carried by almost 20 percent in 2016.

TAPPER: That is right, Steve Israel, a former Democratic Congressman used in charge of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, just tweeted to me, that if anybody had shone him a few years ago, this margin, the Democrat and the Republican, this close in this district where the Democrats didn't even run candidates in the last couple of house races, he would have called it fake news does seem to show, how close things are for this election, whether this is part of a bigger wave or not we'll see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. I mean, he didn't even run any candidates against the Republicans for a couple of cycles.

[23:25:00] TAPPER: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look, there is no question, first of all this is dramatic and it's exciting.

TAPPER: That is why we got in this business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's why we got in this business. As you've been saying repeatedly, every vote does counts. This is a reminder to everybody out there, who wasn't so sure that if they really want to make a difference, they do need to use that right that they have. But if you kind of take a step back and look at the big picture about what this means for this election, this midterm election year 2018, I'm still getting text from Republicans, saying, first of all that they would rather be Conor Lamb than them, right now, the Democrat.

TAPPER: You would always rather be ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Always. But more importantly, that this doesn't make -- as David Chalian said earlier, the freaking out factor any less among Republicans. And that even if, Rick Saccone, the Republican ends up pulling ahead, it is entirely possible that in some of this very, very tight swing districts where Republicans are running in areas where Hillary Clinton won, that you might see more retirements. We already have 38 Republican retirements this election cycle.

You might even see more, because they don't want to deal with a situation that they have in their district where they don't have the benefit of a 20-point lead -- or 20-point win that Donald Trump had in their district. It's going to be a lot harder. And so, I think we have to keep that in mind in terms of big picture.

TAPPER: They are counting this absentees ballots, as we speak right now. We're about to get more numbers, that could make the difference. We'll have much more on this very dramatic contest right after this.

[23:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to an incredibly exciting race in Pennsylvania. Take a look on the board, 99 percent of the votes counted. Conor Lamb has a lead of 847 votes. Absentee ballots are being counted in Washington -- in Washington County. That is expected to take several hours, we're told.

Westmoreland County, also counting ballots. We expect to have a number from them perhaps within the next 30 minutes or so. Right now, I want to go to our our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, you've been tracking reaction from both parties on Capitol Hill. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats in particular still are very confident about the prospect of taking back the House in the fall even as this race is very, very tight, even there's a possibility that it could slip away despite that earlier, healthier margin for Conor Lamb, looks like it was early tonight.

They still look at how this battlefield nationally looks very favorable to them. More than 100 seats or so are more competitive than this Pennsylvania 18th congressional district seat. And Democrats -- several Democratic strategists that I talked to tonight still see a battlefield about four dozen to five dozen seats in which they expect Democrats to be pretty heavily invested and to try to flip by November's election.

And Republicans agree, but they believe the margin is a little bit smaller, probably 40 to 50 seats. And that is more than the two dozen that are needed for Democrats to pick up and regain the House majority. So even if this race does happen to go to Rick Saccone by the end of the day or Conor Lamb, just barely squeaks it out, both sides acknowledge this environment very favorable for the Democrats going forward. And something that Republicans will have to deal with is to try to stem their losses ahead of November's election, Anderson.

COOPER: Rick Saccone is just appearing at his campaign headquarters. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

RICK SACCONE, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR 18TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT SPECIAL ELECTION: Wow. I'm applauding you. That's why I came out applauding. I'm applauding you all. I just came down to -- you know, we're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet. We're going to fight all the way to -- all the way to the end.

You know, I never give up. You know my first race went into the night and we won that. My second race was the same way. We're kind of used to this, all right? So, that's it. We're not going -- we're not giving up. But I wanted to come down and thank you all.

I know you have to -- you know, you got to go to work tomorrow and everybody has got things to do. I didn't want to keep you here later than you really need to be because we're going to be working late into the night and into tomorrow. And -- but I wanted to thank you you all because I know how hard you worked.

I was out at some of the polls. I know how cold it was. And I know you spent all those hours out there for us, for our family, and for all of you and for the agenda that we are working on. And you never gave up. You never gave up on us. You never gave up on me. And I thank you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SACCONE: Thank you. Thank you. You guys are amazing. I'm not kidding. You're amazing. You're always so upbeat. You're salt of the earth. You're the best people in the world. I couldn't -- I couldn't ask for a better blessing than to have supporters like you.

And I'm pleased that you're still here and, again, I don't want you to try to hang on too much. I know many of you got to go, but I definitely wanted to come down and say to you that I thank you ever so much and we're going to keep fighting and don't give and we'll keep it up.

(APPLAUSE)

SACCONE: We're going to win it. God bless you all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Rick Saccone there leaving the stage too, I'm not afraid. We are waiting for the final votes in Pennsylvania. More votes to be counted. Absentee ballots being counted. We'll be right back.

[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We got a key race alert. It's been incredibly, incredibly close in the special election in the 18th congressional district in Pennsylvania. Look at this, more than 220,000 ballots have already been counted, 99 percent of the vote is in, 99 percent plus.

Conor Lamb, the Democrat, maintaining the lead of only 847 votes over the Republican, Rick Saccone. Look at this, 111,875 votes for Conor Lamb, 111,028 votes for Rick Saccone. It's about as close as it gets. They are counting absentee ballots right now.

Let's go over to John King. Take a closer look. They counted the absentee ballots in Allegheny, that part of Allegheny County, the biggest, 42 percent of the vote right there. But we are still waiting for the results from Washington County and Westmoreland County where there are few thousand absentee ballots that still need to be counted.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: More than 3,000 total in these three counties, 1,800 of them here, 1,100 of them here, these are the two bigger counties, just 200 or so down here. So you have 847 vote lead for Conor Lamb, 49.9 to 49.5. That's a very close race. As we go now to Allegheny, 100 percent done. They have counted the absentee ballots.

This is the base of Conor Lamb support. His team said he needed 56 percent to win. Guess what? They are wrong. He needs 57 percent to win because he is going to need every one of these votes as we go through. So we are going to see these votes come in. Here is the issue. We got about 3,000. Some of them could be ruled invalid. Ballpark math here.

[23:40:00] About 3,000 -- 3,200 absentee ballots. Westmoreland County, Rick Saccone got 57 percent. Washington County, got 53 percent. Greene County, got 58 percent, if you round that up. Impressive at first glance, underperforming President Trump in each of these three most Republican areas of the district.

Here is the issue. When you count those absentee ballots, to make up that 847 -- again this is ballpark, we are still waiting for a precinct or two here, so the numbers could change a little bit, but Rick Saccone is going to need 60 percent, perhaps as high as 63 percent, among those absentee ballots when you add them all up.

Say, 62, 63 percent, even if it drops down to 60 percent, he didn't get 60 percent here, got 57 percent. Didn't get 60 percent here, got 53 percent. Didn't get 60 percent here, he got 58 percent, if you round that up. So in the count of the absentee ballot ongoing now, ongoing now, not clear.

I believe they will do this tomorrow, the last couple hundred, perhaps, we haven't heard from them if there is change, but ongoing, ongoing. Rick Saccone is going to have to get 60 percent plus, perhaps as high as 63 percent. He has to overperform among the absentees ballots than he did in the live vote today. Most people who study election will tell you that it's statistically unlike but it's not impossible.

BLITZER: We are told those absentee ballots in Westmoreland could come in within the half hour, so maybe the half hour.

KING: You spoke to the gentleman there who said he is counting them. They got to take them out, they got to scan them. There is a process. They take an oath and they count them. So, yes, that's again 57 percent in the vote count.

They said at the beginning of the night, Rick Saccone wants to be at 60 percent to feel good in this county because of how Republican it is. Just a point of reference. Again, this is not a presidential year. But President Trump got 65 percent in in county. Rick Saccone is getting below 60 percent, at 57 percent.

It's that underperforming the presidential numbers which is why he is losing the district right now, 847 vote lead into the absent -- these are done. I want to say again, no more votes coming out of the Allegheny County which is the bluest, the most Democratic area of the district.

One, two, and three to count. Rick Saccone has to get 60 percent plus. So, mathematically possible. Again, he has got to overperform in the counts ongoing right now than he did --

BLITZER: Larry Spahr, the director of elections in Washington County, told us earlier in the evening they are going to wait the count the absentee ballots, 1,195 absentee ballots in Washington County.

They are going to wait for tomorrow morning but they changed their mind. They are counting them right now. So we should get the results fairly soon from Washington County, Westmoreland County, and will see if Rick Saccone can make up the difference up in this district vote.

KING: I think they will call that the Blitzer effect. I think you convinced Larry. I think you convinced Larry, this is pretty important, let's not wait for the morning because this race is so close. And again, again, it is possible with the absentee ballots counted here, you expect Rick Saccone to make up some ground.

The question is, does he make up enough? If he gets 53 percent of the absentee ballots, it's not enough. He has to overperform that. We will wait for those counts. But, as he said, you heard the candidate when he came down, he is not giving up the fight. He wants to see the final math. Who can blame him when you're down 847 and it's mathematically possible. Count the votes.

BLITZER: The old fashioned way. You wait until you count the votes. There were no exit polls in this district. We are waiting. We are seeing the votes come in. The tally is critical right now. Whatever happens, Conor Lamb, the Democrat, has done incredibly well given the history of this congressional district.

KING: Absolutely. Number one, the Democrats didn't run a candidate two years ago. Didn't run a candidate four years ago. Again, if you go back in time, this was Trump country. A 20-point victory just shy of 20 points over Hillary Clinton in this corner of the state. The margin in this district, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by 40,000 plus votes, 44,000 votes, 72,000 in this district alone.

So you could make the case. The reason Donald Trump turned Pennsylvania from blue for long to red in 2016 is because of the 18th congressional district down here. Very solid Trump country. One of the reasons Democrats are going to look at this tonight, this district is 94 percent white.

We already know Democrats have an advantage among women. Democrats have an advantage among African-Americans. Democrats have an advantage among Latinos. Democrats have an advantage among millennials.

If the Democrats are competitive in districts that are 94 percent white, blue collar working class voters in the midterm election year, the Republicans are in trouble. I want to show you something. I want to come out and Look at this while we are waiting for more of these votes to come in.

Let's go back to 2016. Let's look at the House races here. This is the House nationally after the 2016 election. Keating Holland did this on our staff, our experts out there at the decision desk, looked at what are the districts in America that are pretty much like Pennsylvania '18. Same demographic, same income level, same mix of the voting, same economy, if you will.

And these districts are quite similar. There is 20 of them. There is 20 of them. Now these three within Pennsylvania, the lines changed between where we are tonight and the election. So set those aside. These are Democratic districts up here, very competitive Democratic districts.

If you're a Republican and this is where you live and you are watching this tonight in a 94 percent white district that Donald Trump carried 16 months ago by 20 points, the Democrat is at least running even and may win this race.

[23:45:09] If you've been thinking about retiring, if you're worrying about how much money you need to raise, if you live in any of these districts tonight, you are looking at this, and you're calling your pollster and you're calling your campaign finance person, you are thinking, who is my Democratic opponent? Do I really want to do this? Is that really possible?

That's the conversation happening tonight in these other districts because of what we seeing play out tonight right here in Pennsylvania. Let me take this off, get you out of this. Come back to our race. And come back to 2018.

BLITZER: There we are.

KING: Boom.

BLITZER: An 847 vote advantage for the Democrat Conor Lamb over the Republican Rick Saccone. It's as close as it gets in Pennsylvania right now. We're standing by for officials to count the remaining absentee ballots. We'll get more of them coming in. Stay with us.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And 99 percent of the votes in. Conor Lamb ahead 847, but the absentee ballots are being counted in a number of locations throughout Pennsylvania tonight. I want to check back in with our Jason Carroll covering the Democrat Conor Lamb. We heard from Rick Saccone earlier. Has Conor Lamb spoken? I assume he has not. Do you expect him to if he hasn't?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hopefully we expect him to. Certainly a number of those in the crowd expect him to. Just a short while ago, we heard from the senior campaign adviser, Rich Fitzgerald, who took the stage and jokingly asked the crowd to hang in there. He said there are still a few votes to count. That certainly would be an understatement.

He then, Anderson, took the time to thank the supporters. He talked about the grassroots campaign that Conor Lamb folks have ran. He also gave thanks to the labor community. At the end of the day, they really believe that some of those folks out there in the labor community, the 18th district, can really help them eek out a win here.

But he told the crowd to hang in there. You can hear them now chanting, Conor Lamb, Conor Lamb. He told the crowd to hang in there. He said, hang in there at least for another hour, don't go home yet. But it looks like it might be much longer than another hour before this is all coming to an end. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, certainly it is going to take several hours in some locations for the absentee ballots to be counted. In the minutes that we have remaining here with this particular panel, obviously our coverage is going to continue all through the night, if Conor Lamb is able to pull this out and race is as close as it is, what's the message for Democrats and then for Republicans?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the message for Democrats is going to be that we won in a district that Donald Trump carried by 20 points and so you better get nervous, Republicans, because the wave is coming.

And the message from Republicans is going to be, well we overperformed in a race that you all predicted we were going to lose, but the Democrats rightly so will say, are you kidding me?

COOPER: Republicans can also say, look, you ran a Democrat who basically ran like a Republican on a lot of issues.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. So, the message of it -- for Democrats, the big most important thing for Democrats, which is that if Conor Lamb wins this, they only going to need 23 seats to win the House of Representative in November instead of 24. So, it makes the math one step closer for the --

(CROSSTALK) CHALIAN: Well, depending how the redistricting is seen. It very well could be to 23 seats. But the Republicans are going to walk away saying, buckle up. This is -- all the head winds that we have been talking about are here. They are blowing in our face. We feel it in ways that we never thought we could in districts and places we never thought we could.

So that's going to be the message for Republicans. Some of those -- you were talking about the Senate earlier, Jason (ph). Some of those Senate Democrats that are red state Democrats running in places that Donald Trump won, they are going to see tonight, this guy, Conor Lamb, won in a Trump plus 20 districts.

So if I am Claire McCaskill or Jon Tester or Joe Manchin, what lesson can I learn from the way he ran in these Trump plus districts that I can try to fortify myself for November?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And if you're a Republican also, what is the message? I mean, the focus has been on Democrats don't have message. What is the Republican winning message? They thought it was going to be tax cuts. It looks like it might not be enough here.

Also, they ran on, you know, sanctuary cities and Conor Lamb being soft on crime and he did raise your taxes. That stuff didn't work quite enough. I mean, we'll see what the returns are, but they've got to figure out --

COOPER: Michael, you're going to be on the radio in Pennsylvania early in the morning.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I am.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Thank you for that reminder, and a 5:50 train. The message is, the House is on fire for Republicans. And in each one of these races, regardless of whether there was a pickup, the Democrats have outperformed the Republican lean, the partisan lean, in each one of these districts. And that's something the president's going to have to answer to.

COOPER: It is not over yet, 99 percent of the votes counted. The remaining absentee ballots could decide this race. We're expecting them any minute and in the hours ahead as well. We'll be right back.

[23:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New votes have come in from Westmoreland County in this 18th congressional district. And Conor Lamb's lead has gone down to now only 579 votes. He's ahead of the Republican Rick Saccone. Five hundred and seventy-nine votes as a result of these new ballots that have just been counted in Westmoreland County.

We knew there were absentee ballots if Westmoreland County. We knew that there are absentee ballots in Washington County. We also knw that a couple of precincts were still awaiting the results. We don't know what these latest numbers are from.

KING: I believe it's the two precincts. We are at 98 percent without them, 100 percent now. We are waiting for the absentee ballots still to be counted. But Rick Saccone moved up to 57 percent now. That's where the votes were added. So he cut somewhat into the lead, 800- something before, 579 now.

And 3,200 absentee ballots that we know still to be counted, 1,800 here, 1,100 here, about 200 down here. Here and here, the counts are ongoing. In Westmoreland and in Washington, the counts are ongoing. We expect at least some of those results pretty soon.

So again, we were saying earlier that Rick Saccone had to get 60 percent plus. This changes the math a little bit, brings it down a little bit, and he's getting 57 percent here, 53 percent here. Got to count those absentees.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens with those absentee ballots. It doesn't get much closer than this, Jake, the absentee ballots at these two counties potentially could make the difference.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Potentially. We have the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee declaring for themselves that Conor Lamb is the winner. The Republican counterpart saying that it's too close to call. The larger trend here that we can look to is the fact that this is a district that Donald Trump won with 19 percentage points.

And the fact that this is so competitive right now shows that the momentum is with the Democratic base. And while President Trump is probably watching and thinking that he helped turn this around, it's still going to be very competitive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right, a lot of numbers tonight. I'll give you one more, 114. That's the number of House districts that are even more competitive, a lot more competitive, than the one that we have seen tonight. That is why, despite -- regardless of the outcome, Republicans at the end of tonight are going to be incredibly nervous across the country.

[24:03:00] TAPPER: Our coverage is going to continue with Don Lemon and "CNN Tonight" in New York.