In a “a razor-thin but extraordinary upset,” Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone for Pennsylvania’s 18th district congressional seat according to The New York Times.
This special election took place, according to Politico, after a vacancy opened when “anti-abortion Republican” Tim Murphy resigned after it came to light that he had asked a woman with whom he had an affair with to terminate a pregnancy. In 2016, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania District 18 by 20 percentage points over Hillary Clinton. While it’s possible the race results might be challenged due to how close the totals are — 627 votes separate the two men with more than 227,000 ballots cast — Lamb and his fellow Democrats are cheering. “It took a little longer than we thought,” Lamb said at a victory speech, “but we did it.”
As of March 19, The New York Times and Politico have declared victory for Lamb. He will be up for reelection in Pennsylvania’s 17th district this fall — due to a Supreme Court decision mandating that the Pennsylvania State Legislature redraw the district map — and Saccone is planning to run in a new district in the fall as well. Aside from that, this race was seen as having national implications. Even if Saccone calls for a recount which sways the election back to his favor, the result will be good news for Democrats.
“Tuesday represented yet another huge Democratic overperformance in a Trump-era special election,” according to FiveThirtyEight. By their calculations, Lamb’s performance signifies a swing of voters’ preference by 22 points in favor of Democrats. The FiveThirtyEight analysis says that the results of this elections are “just the latest indication that Republicans are in trouble … If Democrats can win districts like Pennsylvania 18, they won’t need to stretch and scrape together a House majority.”
Lamb’s performance likewise brought up new questions of Democratic strategy to win elections. Lamb ran with some more moderate-to-conservative positions. After Lamb declared victory, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan claimed that Lamb was a “candidate who ran as a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Nancy Pelosi, conservative,” at a press conference on Capitol Hill. President Donald Trump said, “[Lamb] sounded like a Republican to me.”
According to The Washington Post, Ryan and Trump are mischaracterizing Lamb, who ran against the tax cuts, not for them, and opposed regulations on abortions. Lamb was to the left of his opponent, Saccone, who described himself in 2017 as “Trump before Trump was Trump.” But Lamb was more moderate on his gun control stance. Such signifies a possible new strategy emerging for Democrats to win elections.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has been lambasted by progressives for supporting moderate candidates despite some energy coming from the parties more leftist base. According to NPR, support of centrists could hinder Democrats attempts to “capitalize a groundswell of grass-roots, progressive activism from gun control and immigration to renewed activism among female voters motivated by opposition to President Trump.”
Lamb’s campaign however has been used as evidence for supporters of the strategy of having candidates from across the political spectrum. According to former Democratic Representative Dan Glickman in a op-ed for The Hill, Lamb’s probable victory shows that “a calm, thoughtful and polite moderate is a winning strategy once more.”
The primary race between incumbent conservative Democrat Dan Lipinski and the progressive challenger Marie Newman from Illinois, has been described as microcosm for this schism. The two are on opposite sides of many wedge issues — abortion, the Affordable Care Act and some immigration disputes — but are running under the same party for the same seat. Selecting who represents the people of their districts, and will carry the Democratic label to face off against their Republican challengers is an issue the DCCC will have to face when they make their endorsement.
Nevertheless, according to Vox, Democrats are seemingly on a winning streak. But the true test will come in the 2018 midterms when all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate and 39 governorships will be contested.