Conor Lamb; Rick Saccone (Credit: conorlamb.com/ricksaccone.com)
No Democrat has come close to winning Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district in decades. And no Democrat has yet won a special election in the Trump era. On Tuesday night, Democrat Conor Lamb came extremely close, standing on the verge of a startling victory over Republican candidate Rick Saccone in a district that Donald Trump carried in 2016 by almost 20 percentage points.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, including every vote cast on Election Day, Lamb leads Saccone by 0.2 percent, 113,111 votes to 112,532 votes. That’s an extremely narrow margin — but to win, Saccone would have to get about 70 percent of the roughly 1,400 absentee votes still outstanding. Around 12:45 a.m. on Wednesday, Lamb addressed his supporters in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and declared victory — although Saccone has not yet conceded and a possible recount lies ahead.
Like a regular-season matchup that previews a likely playoff contest, the race between Lamb and Saccone was widely watched for its midterm implications — and it should be little surprise if several vulnerable Republicans soon announce their retirements after this shock election.
The temperature never broke 35 degrees in most parts of the southwest Pennsylvania district on Election Day. That may have played a part in depressing the turnout in a traditionally Republican district that runs through four counties from the wealthy suburbs south of Pittsburgh through the steel and coal mining towns along the West Virginia border that make up the heart of Trump country.
Trump won the district by 19 percentage points in 2016. But Republican voters, traditionally motivated to the polls by anger or fear, appeared apathetic about the first major election of 2018. Energized Democrats, on the other hand, showed up in numbers that more closely reflected state voter registration records, which show Democrats slightly outnumbering Republicans among the 500,000 registered voters in the district.
Despite an all-out push from the White House, including a get-out-the-vote appearance by President Trump for Saccone on Saturday in Moon Township, an area Trump carried by 11 percentage points in 2016, Republican voters simply did not show up on Tuesday.
“The world is watching,” Trump said during the 73-minute speech, where he barely mentioned Saccone’s name even once. Lamb went on to win Moon Township by six points, and outperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 numbers in every part of the district.
The district also saw Vice President Mike Pence, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. campaign on behalf of Saccone. None of it seemed to make much difference.
For his part, Lamb did his best to downplay the national attention. “This is a local race,” he told reporters after voting at a church in his hometown of Mt. Lebanon on Tuesday. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the president.”
Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine veteran and former assistant U.S. attorney, had appeal in the working-class strongholds that make up the rural parts of the district, and piled up big margins in …read more