What Connor Lamb’s Victory Illustrates
Barring some sort of complication, it looks like Democrat Conor Lamb pulled off a massive upset in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. A recount may legitimately be in order based on the margin, and the saga of North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s victory may provide a road map for what’s to come. Similar to the Cooper race, the GOP may demand numerous recounts and utilize all judicial options to challenge the result. But Republican Rick Saccone is unlikely to be sworn into office.
Before considering what this tells us about 2018, it is worth noting just how unlikely Lamb’s victory was. Since 2016 the Democrats have been racking up impressive special election margins in state legislative races. As for U.S. Congressional races, the Democrats have repeatedly come up just short of pulling off the upsets, save for Alabama. This time Republicans cannot write off their defeat as the result of a bewilderingly flawed candidate like Roy Moore.
PA-18 was also a much less hospitable district for Democrats than the recent races in Georgia, Montana, or South Carolina, which while quite red, all had either a history of supporting moderate Democrats or had been trending blue as of late. PA-18, in contrast, is more or less what the media has dubbed Trump country, making this upset all the more surprising.
This is the first rock hard evidence that the Trump coalition, while perhaps not crumbling, is not holding together well a mere fifteen months into the Trump administration. A seat in a district as red as PA 18 simply should not have been up for grabs like this. A Democrat has not won here since 2000 and the district has been dominated by Republicans going back over a hundred years.
As has always been the case, Democrats are most successful when their candidates fit their districts. Lamb pulled off this win by speaking to the voters’ better angels with a voice that they understood. Lamb, a prosecutor and a reserve in the Marine Corps, ran a Blue Dog style campaign, playing it safe on abortion and guns, but sticking to core Democratic values when it came to infrastructure, job training, healthcare reform, and most importantly for the district supporting unions. Critics of this style of politics often slander it as “Republican lite” and while that may occasionally be the case, Lamb boosted his liberal credentials by doing something unthinkable to a Republican: taking the No Corporate PAC Pledge.
This platform seems to have struck the right balance of motivating left leaning folks to go out to vote while also shaving off moderate votes that have tended to go Republican. The field of battle when it comes to the 2018 midterms is going to be a vast one. There are plenty more Conor Lambs out there with the profiles and platforms to rally liberals and reach out to disgruntled Republicans. Republicans along the coasts were already facing tough odds against resurgent progressives, and if the Republican grip on Trump country is under threat from Blue Dogs, then Paul Ryan’s days as Speaker of the House just may be numbered.
Kevin covers southern U.S. politics from Alabama