In the most recent special election, this time for a Pennsylvania House Seat, Democrats came up on the winning end just barely scraping by with a victory of less than 1%. Conor Lamb, a self-described pro-gun and pro-life Democrat defeated Republican Rick Saccone on Tuesday night. President Trump had given his full support to Saccone, and Pennsylvania’s 18th is a district that Trump carried by 20 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. However, Republicans could not overcome Democratic enthusiasm so the district, which is slated to be eliminated, fell to Democratic hands. What does this mean for Democrats, and Republicans, in 2018? We shall soon find out.

According to Reuters, several Republicans are “sounding the alarm” over the PA-18 results, warning of dire days to come:

In an ominous sign for Trump’s Republicans eight months before national midterm elections, moderate Democrat Conor Lamb led conservative Republican Rick Saccone on Wednesday by a fraction of a percentage point for the House of Representatives seat.

The earliest the election result could be certified is March 26, according to a state official, but the final tally could be unknown for weeks.

County officials are expected to begin counting provisional paper ballots late this week, and military ballots next week, officials said.

Republicans have until the results are officially certified to challenge the outcome or pursue a recount. Saccone on Wednesday afternoon sent a fundraising email to supporters saying the “campaign is far from over.”

The election should have been a shoo-in for Republicans in a district that Trump won by almost 20 points in the 2016 presidential election. He campaigned for Saccone, who started the race well ahead of Lamb.

Republican Speaker Paul Ryan called the election a “wakeup call” in a meeting with Republican House members and pushed them to raise more campaign funds. He also urged them to do more to highlight tax cuts approved by the Republican-dominated Congress and signed by Trump.

Of course, anytime a party loses a seat, it’s a “wake up call,” but there are caveats in PA-18. As noted, Democrat Connor Lamb ran as a moderate and embraced several positions held by President Trump. He’s a clean-cut, retired Marine and former prosecutor. He also has the benefit of being a candidate who is younger, and more attractive, which always helps. In short, he’s a dream candidate for either party. On the other side, Republican Rick Saccone seemed sloppy throughout the campaign, and barely moved the needle on fundraising. The district itself tends to vote Republican, but voter rolls show that registered Democrats actually outnumber Republicans in PA-18.

Not every race in 2018 will featured a strong Democrat versus a weak Republican in a swing district, each race will have its own dynamics. Democrats ran a smart campaign in PA-18. and some of thee party’s top activists are taking notice that maybe playing to regional interests is better than trying to push a top-down progressive strategy in every district:

In other words, even for progressive Democrats who think Lamb is too moderate on most issues, a “W” for Democrats is better than handing anything back to the GOP. Democrats used to field more moderate candidates, especially from the Midwest (see Bill Clinton).

Republicans are working to paint the loss as the fault of a bad candidate in Rick Saccone. Democrats are painting the victory as a rebuke of President Trump in a district he won handily back in 2016. There is probably truth in both claims to an extent. However, as former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “all politics is local.” If Democrats figure that out and realize why they lost to Trump in 2016, they might reverse the trend in 2018 with strong candidates like Conor Lamb.

As a national party, I’d rather be winning the seats I’m supposed to win rather than losing them, so the Saccone loss still stings for the GOP in 2018.


  1. Democrats are the ones with a huge problem. A Democrat like Lamb has the ability to return the Democrats back to JFK type of Democrats & put an end to the hysterical radical progressives. This could be the biggest blessing since TRUMP.

    • Yes, Lamb is not the typical 2018 Democrat. But Democrats will take a handful of Lambs so long as it means House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They’re starting to see that giving in on some moderate candidates will help their overall goals in districts like PA-18. Lamb may talk like a Republican, but you can bet he’s going to vote mostly with his Democratic caucus, and that’s all they care about, so that’s how I’m reporting on it. As you see, I noted in the story that Lamb is NOT progressive by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. Lamb is a distinctly different kind of Democrat from the current faces of his party. The 33-year-old former Marine it seems has never spoken a bad word about President Trump — in fact, he openly supports some of the president’s policies, including his tariffs on steel and aluminum. He is pro Second Amendment. He opposes hiking the minimum wage to $15. These views are all in line with working-class voters in rural Pennsylvania, many of whom were once “Blue Dog Democrats” but voted Trump in 2016 because they feel alienated and forgotten by today’s Democratic Party.

  3. Nate, Dire? Ominous? Didn’t you write how historical the party out of power wins the mid term elections?

    Is there any reason to expect anything different?

    I know CNN, etc thinks no one remembers what happened with Clinton in the mid term (Newt) or Obama but we do Nate.

    • I’m not saying it, Paul Ryan is. I try to avoid the sensationalizing of the midterms before we even get past the summer months. I remember what happened too, I was there. We don’t know how 2018 is going to shake out. If I had to guess now (bad idea), I’d say Republicans lose House seats, but not as bad a blowout as some forecast. And Republicans will probably WIN Senate seats based on the map this year. So we’ll see what happens.

      • Also, we should remember that this is pretty much a non-event. The district will probably not even exist in a few months, and Lamb will have to run all over again.

  4. I was thinking this morning about how we got into this mess. When I was a kid, there were a lot of Republicans more liberal than the averge Democrat, and a lot of Democrats that were more conservative than the average Republican. more importantly, each candidate hat his or her own view on the whole range of issues. I think that was because people generally voted the way their parents did.

    The two parties were just fighting for control, so there was some consistency, regardless of who won. Now both parties have litmus tests on every, single issue. Parties will actually run ads against their own brethren, if they don’t feel the candidate is extreme enough.

    Consequently, when the public gets tired of one party, the other takes over–with no actual mandate, and may even have lost the popular vote–yet, the nation gets yanked violently one way or the other every four or eight years So instead of building on the past, we tear it down and start over, and over, and over, and over–and it’s getting much worse.

    The worst is foreign policy whiplash. If I were the leader of a foreign country, I’d never want to make any kind of deal with the United States of America now. It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

  5. The Democrats’ momentum shouldn’t have come as a big surprise. Midterms are usually more about a referendum on the president than a choice between the two parties. Helpful news is that Hillary Clinton won’t be on any ballot (although Trump just keeps spewing his falacious tweets her way). The ballot count could be a big problem for House Republican candidates, especially if Trump remains as unpopular as he presently stands. Realistically, the only way Democrats can take back the House is to run up huge margins among young voters who really don’t like Trump.

    And the Democrats owe a big thank you to Republican Rand Paul who just said he cannot vote for Trump “picks” Pompeo or Haspel based on their past support for using torture techniques to interrogate enemy combatants and suspected terrorists. These issues are the heart of the controversy over both nominees. Paul cited a US Senate report that Haspel, who was a CIA deputy director at the time, ran a CIA prison in Thailand where prisoners were waterboarded in 2002. Haspel was also accused of destroying dozens of videotapes of interrogations at the camp.

    Presidents tend to get more unpopular in the lead-up to midterms, so Trump could be more of a liability than an asset in the 2018 general election.

    • I agree about Hillary, and her strange comments, but Nancy is still around. Plus I think Hillary still wants another shot.

      • Hillary probably does want another shot at the prize and who wouldn’t if they were in her shoes. I wish her the best but I feel she does need to quietly retire and become an elder statesman. I have the same wish and thought for Donald Trump.

        Andrew McCabes retirement was scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday), when he would have been eligible for his full benefits. Trump wanted personal revenge so he made Sessions use his old standby “you’re fired” to deprive a dedicated government worker of a significant portion of his promised benefits. Once again, Trump failed to engage his brain before opening his mouth.

        I am ready for Pelosi to retire just as I am ready for all of Trump’s “over retirement age” to retire. Trump’s old age group includes 79-year-old Ross; 70-year-old Sonny Perdue, 69-year-old Robert Lighthizer, 69-year-old Sen. Jeff Sessions just to name a few. The only younger person Trump selected is a woman(wonder why?) Nikki Haley at 45.

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