“We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning. You’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’”
– Donald Trump (May 26th, 2016)
Barring a recount that produces a different outcome, young Democratic congressional hopeful Conor Lamb has eked out a narrow victory over Republican opponent Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania’s Trump-friendly 18th Congressional District, confounding Republicans and delighting Democrats across the country.
With 100% of precincts reporting, these are the results:
- Democratic candidate Conor Lamb: 49.84% (113,813 votes)
- Republican candidate Rick Saccone: 49.56% (113,186 votes)
- Libertarian candidate Drew Gray Miller: 0.6% (1,397 votes)
Lamb’s victory is the second consecutive prominent loss for Donald Trump and the Republicans, following Roy Moore’s defeat in Alabama last December.
Pundits of all stripes are calling it an ominous development for Republicans, who have already lost scores of legislative seats in special elections around the country.
“We should be able to elect a box of hammers in this district. If we’re losing here, you can bet there is a Democratic wave coming.”
Lamb was able to win by harnessing the power of a newly resurgent Democratic Party while appealing to biconceptuals by simply being himself. Trust and authenticity are what really win elections, and Lamb has it in spades.
There is a belief among some that voters judge candidates based on their issue positions, and so to win in a conservative district, a Democratic candidate needs to have conservative issue positions (or at least some) in order to win. But that is nonsense. People do not vote for candidates merely based on what positions they take on the issues; rather, they vote for who they identify with.
Research has borne this out, but old myths die hard.
Lamb did not need to run to the middle to win — he simply needed to be himself and say what he really believed. And that is what he did in his campaign.
Donald Trump suggested at a private fundraiser that Lamb was able to win because Lamb was like him — for tax cuts and irresponsible gun laws and so forth. (Trump, of course, makes everything about himself.) In an audio recording, Trump can be heard remarking: “I said, ‘Is he a Republican? He sounds like a Republican to me.’”
But that is complete rubbish. To be more specific, it’s post-election spin that is at odds with what Trump and his chorus were saying about Lamb before Tuesday.
Again, if you listen to Lamb’s speech, you’ll hear him talk about protecting Social Security and Medicare and the rights of working people. Lamb is staunchly pro-labor, and he made sure to recognize and thank the unions and their members who supported him while onstage. Those just aren’t things that a Republican says.
In reality, Lamb is a strong Democrat — as he said, a Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrat — and his candidacy resonated with many voters in western Pennsylvania for that reason. It is said that the number one rule in politics is don’t alienate your base. Democratic candidates often violate this rule, but Conor Lamb managed to avoid that mistake. He got his base fired up and motivated to turn out.
He also impressed voters with the quality of the campaign he ran. The New York Times sent a reporter to Pennsylvania to practice shoe-leather journalism, and published a nice story full of quotes from people who actually live in or near the district as opposed to self-promoting pundits from far away.
Here are the most striking quotes from that story:
“You have to give credit… He was clearly the best candidate they’ve run for this district. And not only the best candidate but he executed a strong campaign.”
– Mike DeVanney, local Republican political consultant
“I saw him at the fish fry at Our Lady of Grace… He just seems to bring a fresh perspective.”
– Voter Clare Rex
“I saw Lamb, Lamb, Lamb.”
– Saccone supporter Christine Sorbara
Although the final results show Lamb in the lead, Republicans have signaled they will challenge the results based on “irregularities”, which is rich indeed considering how they have brushed aside Democratic complaints about election integrity when the results have shown their candidates ahead.
One of the Republicans’ complaints is that their attorney wasn’t allowed to observe the vote counting in Lamb’s stronghold of Allegheny County.
County spokeswoman Amie Downs said that on Election Day there had been discussions with Republican attorneys about their ability to oversee the vote-counting process. Under the state Election Code, she said, such observers must have a signed authorization from the chair of the county committee. “They didn’t produce that until the very end of the evening, when the ballots had already been scanned,” she said.
Mark Wolosik, who directs the county’s elections office, said that late Tuesday morning, “a call came in asking about people being able to observe the [counting] process on Election Night.” Usually, he said, “people ask ahead of time” rather than on Election Day itself.
Phone messages were exchanged over the following hours, and eventually two Republican attorneys arrived at the central tabulation center, located in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Wolosik said that an attorney identified himself as being “from the Saccone campaign,” but the Election Code only allows political parties, not candidates, to deputize observers. A lawyer later produced an email purporting to show such authorization, but Mr. Wolosik said he couldn’t accept that because “there was no signature.” He swore in the observer after receiving a signed authorization.
It sounds to us like the authorities followed the law and treated the Republicans fairly. If the party wanted observers in place from the get-go, it should have been more prepared. It is quite evident Republicans were caught off guard by last night’s results. They had expected Lamb to win Allegheny County, but they thought Saccone would overtake Lamb when the more conservative counties reported.
When that did not happen, they put their faith in the absentee ballots. Cable news outlets reported the White House and local Republicans were optimistic about the absentee ballots breaking in Saccone’s favor. But the absentee ballots enhanced Lamb’s position, preserving his slim lead and leaving Republicans angry.
Pennsylvania’s 18th District will soon have new boundaries thanks to court-ordered redistricting, so this special election will be the final event in the history of this jurisdiction. But we wouldn’t be surprised if Conor Lamb remains a part of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation for years to come.