As of this morning, March 14, with only a few hundred provisional ballots left to count, it appears Democrat Conor Lamb has won the special election against Republican Rick Saccone to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th District in Congress. Lamb’s victory is a big upset in a district where Republicans are so strong that the former representative ran unopposed and John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump all won by huge margins. The race should not have been close, but Lamb pulled it out and should be a strong, positive voice in Washington.
Lamb won the race for two key reasons. First, he was the right candidate for the district. A veteran and former prosecutor, he ran a more centrist campaign that appealed to a wide range of voters. While he is against abortion, he is committed to protecting Social Security and Medicare. He was against the Republican tax cuts, but unlike the Democrats of 2016, he offered an economic message that resonated with steel workers and other voters who had previously felt abandoned by Democrats. Lamb also promised to fight gridlock and seek solutions to our nation’s challenges, something that appeals to an electorate that has become increasingly frustrated by Congress’ inaction and inefficiency. This is a model for Democrats to use to finally mount an effective 50-state strategy. Pay attention Tom Perez!
The other key reason was President Trump. First, clearly Democrats had more enthusiasm for this race than Republicans. This is part of a national trend that helped recent Democratic victories in Virginia and elsewhere and if sustained could lead to more Democratic gains in November. Second, in my opinion,was President Trump’s campaign rally with Saccone on the eve of the election. Trump’s speech was rife with his usual hyperbole, insults and vulgarity, as well as dishonesty. While such events continue to rally the Trump base (many of whom acknowledge this is little more than entertainment), they do not serve the interests of Republican candidates. This election was extremely close, likely decided by under 1,000 votes. I posit that well more than 1,000 Republicans stayed home or voted for Conor Lamb. Saccone is also to blame for his shameful, desperate last-minute ploy. He asserted at a campaign rally that Democrats hate our country and hate God. This was not an errant exaggeration or moment of being carried away. Saccone actually added emphasis to the comments. Such vile, ridiculous, vitriol has no place in our politics and candidates who resort to comments like this deserve to lose and should be shamed out of politics.