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Trump and Saccone at Saturday's rally. Photo: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

There's a reason Trump said hardly anything about Republican candidate Rick Saccone during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night that was supposed to promote his candidacy.

  • The reason: Trump thinks Saccone is a terrible, "weak" candidate, according to four sources who've spoken to the president about him.
  • Trump held that opinion of Saccone before leaving for the rally, and I've not been able to establish whether his time on the ground with the candidate changed his mind.
  • Trump isn't the only top Republican who’s found Saccone underwhelming. The widely-held view from Republican officials: Democrat Conor Lamb is a far superior candidate to Saccone and running a far better campaign. Lamb is running effectively as Republican Lite. He's pro-gun and says he personally opposes to abortion (though he supports abortion rights).
  • The thing that most irks senior Republicans involved in the race: Saccone has been a lousy fundraiser. Lamb has outraised Saccone by a staggering margin — nearly 500 percent.

Politico's Alex Isenstadt was first to report that Trump was not impressed with Saccone.

I spoke on Saturday to Corry Bliss, who runs the outside groups linked to Paul Ryan and may have as much as $140 million to spend on the midterm elections.

  • "The lesson of this race is that campaigns and candidates matter,” Bliss told me. “In this environment, when one campaign out-raises and runs circles around the other, that creates a number of challenges that are tough to overcome."

Saccone thanked Trump in a statement for his appearance: "This administration has already made unprecedented progress on behalf of the American people and I look forward to working with him to continue to deliver on the promises made. I could not have asked for a stronger endorsement of our campaign ahead of the March 13 special election." The election is on Tuesday.

Why this matters: Forecaster Nate Silver tweeted today: "Stating the hopefully-obvious, but the fact that PA-18 is competitive is a really bad sign for Republicans. It voted for Trump by 20 points and Romney by 17. The previous Republican incumbent there (Tim Murphy) didn't even have a Democratic challenger in 2014 or 2016 & won by 28 points the last time he did, in 2012."

  • Polls suggest a tight race — RealClearPolitics calls the contest a "Toss Up" — and even a narrow victory by Saccone would be a massive swing against Republicans.
  • Should Saccone lose, Republicans will be quick to describe his loss as meaningless and will argue it's not a bellwether for November's elections. They'll say he was a terrible candidate and that his loss should be a wake-up call to other Republican candidates who may be getting lazy about their fundraising.

Bottom line: Cook Political Report's Amy Walter emailed me this quick analysis: "My short answer is that one should never read too much into any one race but this is more than Saccone. This is a red congressional district that should go for the generic Republican. But the environment today is much worse than 'normal' for Republicans. That’s not because of Saccone or Lamb, but because of Trump."

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Go deeper

Reports: More than 100 Republicans threaten to form 3rd party over Trump

Former President Trump addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, in February. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More than 100 Republicans will sign a letter Thursday threatening to create a third party if the GOP doesn't "break" with former President Trump, Reuters first reported.

Why it matters: Per Axios' Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Trump's grip on the GOP has gotten stronger since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The Republican Party's "allegiance to Trump" as he continues to make false claims about his 2020 election loss has "dismayed" the group, according to Reuters.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

In photos: Dozens dead as Israel and Hamas intensify aerial bombardments

People gather at the site of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on May 11. Photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

At least 35 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed as fighting between Israel's military and Hamas entered a third day, per Reuters.

The big picture: The worst aerial exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas since 2014 come after escalating violence in Jerusalem that injured hundreds of Palestinians and several Israeli police officers during protests over the planned evictions of Palestinian families from their homes.

Scoop: Stephanie Murphy announcing challenge to Marco Rubio

Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is planning to announce a campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in early June, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Murphy is a proven fundraiser. Jumping in now would give her an early start to build her case for the Democratic nomination and potentially force Rubio and allied GOP groups to spend heavily to retain a seat in a state that’s trending Republican.