Today’s special congressional election in Pennsylvania is incredibly important to both Democrats and Republicans. It gives Democrats another early test of their future success in the 2018 midterms. This congressional district’s voters chose Trump by 20 points in 2016, which makes a Democratic win a real game changer. This was such a safe red district that the former Republican Congressman Tim Murphy didn’t even have a Democratic challenger in 2014 or 2016.
This special election isn’t just a test about a Democrat’s ability to move a red district to blue. It’s a test of whether a Democrat can win back union voters that rejected Hillary Clinton in 2016. It’s a test for a Democrat to win in a district with a 21-point Republican advantage (according to FiveThirtyEight) which has continuously re-elected Republicans since 2002.
The Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb is a former prosecutor, Marine and centrist Democrat. Lamb opposes abortion and holds conservative views on gun laws. He has also criticized Nancy Pelosi and said she needed to be replaced. “I think we need new leadership on both sides,“ said Lamb.
This election is also a test among Democrats who argue that their candidates must be ideologically pure vs. centrists that believe the party must extend the big tent to moderate candidates. Centrist Democrats and unions are supporting moderate Lamb in order to be competitive in a very conservative district. Can Lamb excite progressive voters that either didn’t vote in 2016 or voted for Trump?
Steven Billet, Director at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, emphasized the impact of a Democrat winning this district.
“If [Republicans] lose this House seat, they can lose nearly any congressional seat,” said Billet.
The political analyst website FiveThirtyEight is looking at this race closely in regard to future election predictions.
“The margin in federal special elections specifically has moved 16 points toward Democrats compared to each constituency’s usual partisan lean. If that happens again in Pennsylvania, Democrats will be nipping at Republicans’ heels,” according to FiveThirtyEight.
Trump won Iowa by nearly 10 points. If a Democrat can win in a district that Trump won by 20 points it certainly will give Iowa Democrats hope that they can reverse the Republicans 2016 tidal wave in both state and federal offices.
Both Democrats and Republicans recognize the importance of winning this U.S. Congressional district as a bell weather for 2018. President Trump held a raucous rally at the Pittsburg airport in support of Republican Rick Saccone over the weekend. Former Vice President Joe Biden came to campaign for Democrat challenger Lamb last week.
This is a crucial election in winning back union voters that President Trump won in 2016. Tim Waters, political director of the United Steel workers pointed to the need for Democrats to run candidates that are compatible with the needs of the district’s voters. The unions are supporting Lamb and are putting in the time and man hours to get him elected.
“A lot of our members just didn’t trust Hillary Clinton,” said Waters. “Donald Trump talked a lot about working-class voter issues, especially on trade. It resonated with a lot of people in working-class neighborhoods. We’re hoping that in 2018, the Democratic Party figures out you can’t have the same message in Phoenix that you have in Pittsburgh.”
Trump is desperate to win this district. Recall his constant boasting that his 2016 win resulted from turning out blue collar voters in places like Pittsburgh. When Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, he declared that he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Some political pundits have suggested Trump spontaneously announced the steel and aluminum tariffs in a desperate last minute attempt to pander to steel workers in Pennsylvania. Reuters reported that some Republican strategists are suggesting Trump’s shocking tariff move wasn’t aimed to shake up world trade but rather to support the Republican in this single congressional race.
“Some Republican strategists said Trump’s tariff threat appeared to be timed, at least in part, to sway voters in the steel country of Pennsylvania, including its 18th District where Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb are facing off,” according to Reuters.
Since Lamb supports the tariffs and has strong union support, Trump’s tariff move may backfire. Today is a big day for Democrats in churning up a big blue wave.
by Rick Smith