It is now official – barring the possibility that a recount of the election is granted and the result indicates other than the final tally – Conor Lamb, Democrat candidate in Pennsylvania’s special election in the 18th Congressional District, has been declared the winner over GOP opponent, Rick Saccone – a Trump acolyte.
Election observers were keenly intrigued about what the overall effect of Donald Trump’s visit to Pennsylvania to stump for Saccone would be. The election was widely seen as the latest in a series of referendums of Trump’s presidency, which commenced with the Virginia Gubernatorial race late last year, in which Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie, and Democrats took a majority of down ballot races.
Since then, Trump’s efforts in inserting himself and his record as president, have yielded one disastrous result after another. This special election was no exception. The 18th, (the footprint of which at present, will no longer exist after this election due to court ordered redistricting) was made to order for a GOP win, if ever a congressional district was. Prior to the balloting, the the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated it a Republican win plus 11 percentage points.
The district was such a lock in previous elections, that Democrats did not even field a candidate. Trump even bragged about his own results in the precincts and beyond in 2016, at a campaign rally in Moon Township, this past Saturday. It wasn’t just Trump who stumped for Saccone – he had Vice President Pence working the events as well as son, Don Jr. and daughter Ivanka.
Trump even made a lot of noise about his steel and aluminum tariffs, which ordinarily would have resonated bigly and resulted in a stronger GOP turnout. It didn’t. Trump attacked the news media and called NBC news correspondant Chuck Todd, a “son of a bitch”; made derogatory remarks about Saccone’s opponent, Lamb and launched incendiary barbs about California House member Maxine Waters and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
It’s fair to say that Trump’s attempt to smear Connor Lamb was not well thought out. Lamb, a 33 year old Marine Vet and former deputy US attorney who prosecuted drug dealers in the midst of Pennsylvania’s deadly opioid crisis is not a progressive Democrat and not networked with Ms. Pelosi. In fact, he told voters he had no intentions of supporting her bid for House Speaker, should the Democrats prove successful in taking back Congress this fall.
Of the 18th district, Pennsylvania Democratic consultant Mike Mikus told Vox:
“It’s not so much a conservative district as it is an economic populist district,” You don’t have to support the NRA down the line, but respect the right of people to own firearms … and [be] someone that’s willing to stand up to the national party when they feel it’s in the interest of the district or the region.”
Lamb, while he can be accurately categorized as a moderate or centrist, came across staunch on defending government programs that Americans fear the GOP will begin taking a butcher knife to, in order to pay for the tax cut for the 1% and corporations – programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. Lamb made a commitment to his voters that he would push for serious reforms to alleviate the Opioid crisis, while Trump has done little more than give executive office lip service on the issue.
Trump felt he had a very significant skin in the game in this election in the Keystone State. After all, Trump won the state by less than a single percentage point (48.2 to Clinton’s 47.5), but that margin afforded him the state’s 20 electoral votes, thus adding to the hat trick that included Michigan and Wisconsin and the victory on election night. It was especially meaningful given that Trump had won the 18th by a margin of 20 percent.
Trump told the campaign audiences this time around, that “Normally I would not come, except it’s Pennsylvania. I love Pennsylvania.”
It’s not just Trump that has been repudiated by this stunning election result. It is also the party of the “R” behind Trump’s name. Eric Levitz, writing in the Daily Intelligencer notes that:
“A win for Team Blue in the heart of Trump country could convince GOP incumbents that a blue wave was coming, thereby pushing more into retirement, depressing contributions to campaigns, and torpedoing morale across the board. Thus, the actual result of the election would matter less than the lessons that it appeared to teach.”
However – there is a lesson to be learned from the outcome of this election for the Democrat party as well. Democrats, nationally, have to come to grips with the fact that they must field candidates that are a reasonably accurate match to the ideological leanings of the districts they are competing in. Conor Lamb, is essentially what used to be described as a “Blue-Dog Democrat”.
Lamb, for example, didn’t scare the dickens out of rural voters by getting wild with gun control rhetoric. If Democrats don’t calibrate their politics to the sensibilities of the areas they are competing in, all of this euphoria will prove to be ephemeral.
The GOP, having seen the writing on the wall in the polling data, frantically threw $9 million into the race, in a district that will not exist (as presently constituted) in November.
Republicans need a win somewhere, anywhere, to get the taste of losing out of their mouths. It looks like that bitter and sour flavor is going to linger all the way through the mid-terms.