Irish Gazette

PA-18 Special Election: Yet Another Upset in Trump Country


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Last Tuesday, voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district narrowly picked Democrat Conor Lamb over Republican Rick Saccone by a mere 627 votes or 0.2% of the vote. The results come as a surprise due to the district normally being written off as a Republican stronghold. The district is situated in southwestern Pennsylvania, encompassing the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh and a sizable chunk of rural Appalachia to the south.

Why is this significant? The reason is clear, special elections provide a small look into how the president and his party are faring prior to the big midterm elections. These small cross-sections into parts of the country predicted the massive 2010 Tea Party wave, where Republicans took the House by netting 63 seats and took the governor’s mansion in many historically liberal states like Wisconsin and Michigan. PA-18 was deep in Trump country in 2016, but now just elected a moderate Democrat. If Democrats can translate this momentum to other districts across the country they could eclipse and double the size of the 2010 wave.

The Republican candidate for PA-18 was Rick Saccone, he was a core conservative who said that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump” and supported right-to-work (anti-union) legislation. Saccone even campaigned with Trump just days before the election, along with VP Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway the Counselor to the President. A big reason that shows that Republicans are in danger this November is that Saccone was outraised 4 to 1 by Lamb. House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “We need to execute, we need to get our message, and we need to make sure that our candidates aren’t massively outraised and outspent on TV as was the case between these two candidates.” Although Saccone was outraised by Lamb by donations, outside groups such as the Koch-funded Club For Growth and the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund spent over $10 million on ads supporting Saccone. Apparently not even money can save the Republican’s sinking ship in Appalachia.

Meanwhile the young, moderate Conor Lamb was unique in that he was tailored to his district. Conor Lamb’s campaign website lists his top priorities as the heroin crisis, jobs and infrastructure, affordable health care, protecting Medicare and Social Security, reforming the student loan system, unions, and modern energy development. He was also against any new gun restrictions outside of reforming background checks. Lamb went as far as supporting Trump’s new steel and aluminum tariffs which would be popular in his Rust Belt district. Lamb’s moderation worked very well for the Democrats, as every precinct but two swung towards the Democrats compared to the 2016 election results. Republican advertisements tried to divide the left’s vote by attacking Lamb for “not being liberal enough” citing his positions on guns and Trump. But alas, this strategy failed to save the struggling Saccone.

PA-18 Special Election: Yet Another Upset in Trump Country