CANONSBURG, Pa. -- On the last day of the campaign for the special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, Donald Trump Jr. toured a candy factory in Washington County to urge locals to turn out for Rick Saccone, the Republican running for the House seat against Democrat Conor Lamb.
Trump was the third member of his family to visit the district in the past few weeks in an all-out effort to help bring Saccone over a finish line that he has been lagging behind in the past 10 days.
Monmouth University released a survey just as the confectionery tour began, showing Lamb ahead in three turnout models, all of which were within the 5.1 percentage point margin of error.
"It is really important for us to remind voters of not just what my father has accomplished and that he needs every Republican house member to continue that progress," said Trump Jr. in an interview with the Washington Examiner after he and Saccone concluded a tour of the iconic family candy business that has been a Canonsburg staple since 1963.
Trump Jr. pointed out that Sarris Candies is the perfect example of a small American business that has done well under the Trump tax reform bill, which he reminded supporters that no Democrat, no matter how moderate or centrist they are, supported.
"Sarris Candies has over 400 employees, they told me they added 80 more after the tax reform bill passed," he said, "That's not counting the ripple effect it has in the surrounding community."
After some ice cream in the retail shop, Trump Jr. toured the sprawling factory with Saccone and Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus of the 12th Congressional District. He donned a hairnet as he talked with the candymakers, mostly women, about their craft, while passing aisles of hundreds of large and small chocolate Easter rabbits, white chocolate crosses and colorful dark chocolate baskets.
Lamb, who did not have any events scheduled for Monday, has run a tight campaign designed to portray himself as a centrist pro-gun, pro-tariff independent who is free of his party's influence. Trump Jr. said: "That makes a great ad, but we all know what happens when you go to Washington, you eventually have to toe the party line, and that's why it's important to elect Republicans who will work with the president."
Lamb's youth and charm and lack of any record to run against has caused Saccone to remain stuck in the polling. National Republicans have fretted over the symbolism of losing a seat Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points and have taken to criticizing him personally.
Trump Jr. dismissed a Monday story published by Axios that reported his father called Saccone weak. "That is not anything I have heard or know of," he said.
Win or lose the seat, Trump Jr. said the biggest lesson that everyone can learn from this race is never letting up the pressure: "For me, it is all about staying in the game."
"He's not on the ticket in 2018, he is not on the ticket tomorrow, people have to realize in many ways he is, because all of his accomplishments, all of what he has gotten done, all of the winning they are now getting used to can all go away" if voters don't show up in House races, the president's eldest son said.
Trump Jr. admitted they cannot use his father's new slogan for 2020, "Keep America Great," which he unveiled in a rally in Pittsburgh Saturday night, if his voters become complacent. Democrats, he said, "will get in the way of everything" his father wants to accomplish.
Democrats must flip 24 Republican-held seats to gain the House majority.
Trump Jr. has said the solution is to go hard in running on what his father has accomplished "and the future."
"Think of what he did in 14 months, and what he can do in the next eight years," Trump Jr. said. "You can't do that if you lose the House and the Senate. And there is only so much you can do with executive action."
Trump Jr., who delivered a bracing speech for his father on the second night of the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016, raised his profile and ability to serve as an effective surrogate for his father on the campaign trail. He said his life have changed dramatically since his father won the presidency.
"Every day is a battle, every day is a gotcha," he said, explaining how he has learned every inflection in his voice can change the meaning of what he has said in a story.
What he does like is going to places like western Pennsylvania, Ohio and out West where he connects with people because of his love of hunting, a shared cultural touchstone.
"I get it, I see what they see. Look, I get it, I fully acknowledge I am not exactly the most likely person who is the bellwether of what is going on with the real working-class people in America ... but I am," he said. "Because they are my friends. You don't see me in the New-York-City-rubber-chicken-dinner-nonsense circuit. I hang out with real Americans. This is who I choose to spend what little free time I have with."
Where does he go to for stress relief? His family: "I have five kids, ages 10 to three years old. I spend a lot of time with them and in the outdoors."
From the Sarris Candy factory, Trump Jr. went to Elizabeth Township, Pennsylvania, to speak to Saccone campaign volunteers at Blaine Hill Volunteer Fire Department and rally people to get people to the polls on Tuesday.
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Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at [email protected]