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PA Special Election Showdown - What To Know

       3/13/2018

Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone

There is a showdown going on in Pennsylvania’s 18th district today, pitting Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb against each other for the Congressional seat. This hotly contested race in the heart of Trumpland is under the national spotlight because it could be a litmus test for the midterms in November; if the Dems are able to swing a district that Trump won by nearly 20 points, it would not bode well for the Republicans.

The seat is up for grabs in a special election after being vacated by Tim Murphy in October 2017, who admitted to an extramarital affair and allegedly asked his mistress to have an abortion despite his stated pro-life views. Before this election, the district ran consistently red, with Republicans having won 8 consecutive elections in the district. Both Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012 won heavily here.

But recent polls and elections have shown that the shift towards the Democrats may be great enough to swing the vote. The margin in federal special elections since Trump’s election specifically has moved 16 points toward Democrats compared to each constituency’s usual partisan lean. Roy Moore’s loss is a great example of this; Alabama, who has historically voted consistently Republican, voted in Democrat Doug Jones last year. And in special elections for Pennsylvania state legislative offices this cycle, Democrats have outperformed expectations to an even greater degree: a 29-point shift in the margin.

So the pressure is on for the Republicans to perform. "The world is watching," Trump said in an appearance in the district Saturday night.

On The Race

The race is between two very different candidates. Rick Saccone is a hard line Republican, who has been quoted saying “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” He is an experienced politician, currently serving as the state’s 39th district representative. His has a long list of credentials, including a Ph.D. in International Affairs and time spent in the Air Force as an officer, working in counter-intelligence. He has been endorsed by Trump, has spoken out in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and has been an advocate for gun rights. He favors "right-to-work" legislation, making him a target for unionist, but he has maintained "the union members have always voted for me. Their leadership has never represented their members, and they know that.”

His opponent, Conor Lamb, is a young, political inexperienced Democrat. He holds a law degree and spent time as a Marine officer. He has also spent time as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, prosecuting cases involving opioid-related deaths. He has shown to be critical of Republican action to repeal Obamacare, and has shown a bias towards using public funds to pay for social programs. Working in his favor is the fact that Pennsylvania 18th is actually ancestrally Democratic. Before Murphy was elected in 2002, the area was represented by Democrat Frank Mascara, who opposed abortion and gun control and projected a blue-collar image. Lamb is said to have similar “blue dog” appeal.

Regardless of the outcome of this race, whoever wins will have to fight hard to keep their seat after this special election. Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s current congressional map as too gerrymandered in favor of the GOP; in February, the court imposed new district lines that are friendlier to Democrats. The new map splits most of the current 18th District between the new heavily Republican 14th District and the swingier, suburban 17th District.

And ultimately, while a single election does not necessarily predict the midterms, all eyes are on this race, and whichever side wins will likely point to it as proof that their party has momentum going their way into the midterms, whether it be due to dissatisfaction or apathy. If you wish for the left to not be allowed to have this kind of momentum, then keep an eye on this election, and remember to go out and vote this year.

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