Democrat Appears to Take Home the Win in Trump Country

Republican candidate Rick Saccone on the left, and Democratic candidate Conor Lamb on the right

Republican candidate Rick Saccone on the left, and Democratic candidate Conor Lamb on the right

Daevan Mangalmurti, Editor

What looks like a narrow victory for Democrat Conor Lamb brings five months of full-strength campaigning in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District to an end. District 18, which had been home to millions of dollars of campaign spending, virulent attack ads, and incredible levels of press coverage over the past few months, seems poised to be represented by a Democrat in Congress for the first time in 15 years, a massive change for Western Pennsylvania. Mr. Lamb won by only a couple hundred votes, and Mr. Saccone is expected to contest the results, meaning that an official winner may not be declared for days or weeks. However, the polls appear to give Mr. Lamb a strong enough lead to overcome any challenges from Mr. Saccone, and we are calling it in his favor. 

This special election in District 18 to replace disgraced former Congressman Tim Murphy was widely seen as a contest that would indicate how well the Democrats will do in this fall’s midterms, as well as a judgement on President Trump’s tenure. The success of Mr. Lamb shows that moderate Democrats can still win in what seem like deep-red districts, and could augur a “blue tide” of Democratic successes during the 2018 midterm elections, as well as a redefining of Democratic priorities during the Trump administration. An important thing to keep in mind, however, is that Mr. Lamb will only serve as a Congressman until November, at which point the 18th district will disappear as Pennsylvania’s judicially-mandated redistricting comes into effect (read more about that here). Both candidates will then be in different Congressional districts, where they could still mount runs against incumbents.

The newly elected Democrat, Mr. Lamb, is a member of a well-known Pittsburgh political family as well as a former Marine and federal prosecutor. Mr. Lamb raised nearly $4 million for this race and was supported by national Democrats through campaign appearances by popular figures like former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy III. Throughout the campaign Mr. Lamb appealed to voters throughout the district by stating his personal opposition to abortion and his support of gun rights, two characteristics that are disliked by the national Democratic party but endeared him to the local electorate. He was also the beneficiary of strong labor and union support, something that Hillary Clinton did not receive while she was campaigning in the district during the 2016 election. Mr. Lamb publicly declared his intent not to support House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi if elected early on in his campaign, a decision that improved perceptions of him in the 18th substantially. Voters I spoke to in the Mon Valley region seemed equally split between Mr. Lamb and Mr. Saccone, but tonight’s results show that Mr. Lamb’s supporters were just barely greater in number.

The defeated Republican, Mr. Saccone, was previously the Representative for Pennsylvania’s 39th District. One voter I spoke to, Joshua Shoemaker of Elizabeth Township, said that, “I’m voting for Conor Lamb because he’s not Rick Saccone, and that’s all that matters.” While that is certainly not the majority perspective on Mr. Saccone in the district, it shows the level of abhorrence liberals in the district feel towards Mr. Saccone and his policies. Mr. Saccone’s loss can mostly be attributed to his inability to control the message he was sending to voters, something Mr. Lamb excelled in, as well as the difficulty he had in finding issues where he could successfully clash in terms of ideas with Mr. Lamb. Mr. Saccone raised only $900,000 for this campaign, and while outside Republicans outspent Democrats by more than five to one, they focused on attack ads that failed to sway independent and moderate voters in the district. It is unclear as of yet how President Trump will react to Mr. Saccone’s loss, given that they campaigned together this past weekend and that Mr. Saccone declared that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump.”

The national significance of a Democrat securing victory in an district that President Trump won by double digits in 2016 cannot be overstated, especially since the region has not even had a Democratic candidate for this seat in several years. Stay with us over the coming months as we continue to report on political developments in Western PA and what they could mean for the state and the rest of the nation.