The Republican candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th District is a torture advocate who worked at Abu Ghraib

When Rep Tim Murphy resigned in shame after he was outed for pressuring his mistress to get an abortion while serving on the "House Pro-Life Caucus," it triggered a special election in Pennsylvania's 18th, a rustbelt district in the southwest corner of the state, where a strong Democrat candidate named Conor Lamb is polling high against his Republican opponent, torture advocate Rick Saccone, who served as an Army intelligence support consultant at Abu Ghraib prison after its torture scandal.

Saccone has written extensively about the need for torture, penning numerous columns and a book in which he made claims about useful intelligence gleaned from "waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, as well as threatening prisoners with execution, dogs, and electrocution" — claims that were later retracted by the US government, which found that its torturers had lied about the usefulness of the intelligence they received after repeatedly simulating the execution of a suspect, subjecting him to more than 80 simulated drownings.

Saccone's campaign website boasts of his experiences in Iraq "identifying, capturing, and interrogating insurgents."

Saccone is the latest scandal-haunted, Trump-backed candidate whose manifest unfitness threatens to turn a safe red seat blue. He's no Roy Moore kid-fiddler, but like Moore, he advocates for eliminating the barrier between church and state. Saccone is backed by local billionaires who are flooding the airwaves with ads in support of his candidacy, while the Dem establishment has done little to support Democratic candidate Conor Lamb, despite Lamb's dynastic connection to the Democratic party (his grandfather was once Democratic majority leader of the PA state senate). But the region's local trade unions are still a powerful force, and they are backing Lamb aggressively, flipping away from the local AFL-CIO support of Trump in the 2016 election.

Saccone, who was elected during the tea party wave election of 2010 to a state legislative seat, has played up social issues in his bid for Congress this year. He is known generally in state politics for attempting to make 2012 the "Year of the Bible," and has long campaigned on the claim that there should be no separation of church and state.

"God has set out a plan for us," Saccone told a Christian right radio host last year, discussing his plans for federal office. "He wants godly men and women in all aspects of life. He wants people who will rule with the fear of God in them to rule over us."

Trump's embrace of Saccone is mutual. "I was Trump before Trump was Trump," Saccone has boasted. "I ran on that agenda in 2010. It's the same agenda – it's the people's agenda. The president just nationalized it."

GOP Candidate for Pennsylvania Special Election is a Former Abu Ghraib Interrogation Consultant [Lee Fang/The Intercept]

(Image: Peters Township Community TV, CC-BY)