Assuming that his opponent does not mount a recount, Democrat Conor Lamb will represent Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District after winning by the slimmest of margins in last week’s electoral contest.
With 100 percent of the 593 precincts fully reported, Lamb possessed over 600 votes more than Saccone, according to The Associated Press, leading the Democrat to declare victory the day after the March 13 special election. But with several hundred absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted, Saccone, who was sitting on a nearly-impossible path to the current Congress, has refused to concede. More than 221,000 total ballots were cast.
CBS News reported that the GOP is considering both a recount and “lawsuit over perceived irregularities” in the contest, which was spurred by the Oct. 21, 2017, resignation of former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy in a personal scandal. Pennsylvania law does not mandate a recount for federal races.
While it is unclear what Saccone will do, he has been gathering petitions to run in the newly-drawn 14th Congressional District. Meanwhile, Lamb is proceeding as if he’s heading to Capitol Hill.
He retweeted a New York Times post “calling it in his favor,” and wrote on Twitter, “We did it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I’m so grateful to everyone who made this possible. I’m proud of what we accomplished last night. I’m proud to be a Western Pennsylvania Democrat. And I’m ready to get to work for the people of #PA18.”
For many across the nation, the Lamb-Saccone race represented a potential referendum on President Donald Trump. In 2016, Trump heavily won the district, a point that he referenced during his recent Pittsburgh visit. While speaking to rally-goers in Moon Township on Saturday, March 10, the Republican president implored his audience to “go out on Tuesday and vote like crazy.”
Such high-profile instruction mirrored that of former Vice President Joe Biden, who visited Lamb supporters at the Carpenters Training Center in Collier Township on Tuesday, March 6. While pointing to the Democratic candidate, Biden said, “Get out there and work, help this man win.”
The election asked voters from Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs to select between Saccone, a U.S. Air Force veteran and former faculty member at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, and Lamb, a Marine and former federal prosecutor. Biden called Lamb a “man of good character,” while Trump referred to Saccone as “an extraordinary person.”
According to both Trump and Biden, the contest represented something more than two men fighting for one seat.
“Beyond the vote it’s very important to remember this, the other opponent, [Saccone’s] opponent, is not voting for us. He can say all he wants, there is no way he is ever voting for us ever, ever, and he can be nice to me, and he is, but there’s no way he’s ever voting for me,” said Trump.
“Take a look at what’s happening. People are realizing the bill of goods they have been sold. People are angry,” noted Biden.
While reporters and strategists have begun debating the political consequences for Trump of the vote, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was less convinced of its implications.
“This is something that you are not going to see repeated because they didn’t have a primary,” he told reporters. “They were able to pick a candidate who could run as a conservative, who ran against the minority leader, who ran on a conservative agenda. You will have primaries in all of these other races and the primaries bring them to the left so I just don’t think this is something you’re going to see a repeat of.”
Nearly $30 million dollars were spent between Democrats and Republicans in the special election. On March 2, WESA.FM reported that Lamb had raised “more than $3.3 million in the first seven weeks of 2018,” a figure “almost five times the $703,000 Saccone reported.”
Nonetheless, those figures paled in comparison to a March 13 report from NPR, which stated, “More than $10 million has been spent to support Saccone, about twice as much as has been spent for Lamb.”
Ultimately, there was a clear message in the special election, said Ryan. “Both candidates ran as conservatives, ran as pro-gun, pro-life, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservatives, and I think that’s the takeaway we see here.”
“If Paul Ryan believes that this was an election about Nancy Pelosi then he is going to be in for a real shock in November when he loses dozens of seats,” said attorney Clifford Levine, who apart from serving as a 2008 and 2012 delegate for President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, was a member of Obama’s campaign finance committee and a Pennsylvania representative of the former president on election law.
Lamb “will set a national tone that a constructive approach to working together is really what the American people want,” said Levine.
Such sensibilities are among the reasons why Jamie Forrest and other members of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, a local affiliate of the progressive Jewish movement, supported Lamb’s campaign.
“We worked with Jews and other supporters in the 18th District to phone bank and canvass on behalf of Conor Lamb, who represented to us the values of honesty, integrity and morality that we wish to see in Washington,” said Forrest. “His victory is a signal to us that we are not alone in this desire, and that there will likely be a wave of candidates like Lamb who are able to win elections this fall by running campaigns that focus on issues grounded in empathy and decency.”
Those traits are really what drew voters to Lamb, said Levine. “Conor Lamb ran a very positive campaign and he is of the belief that government can offer very positive solutions and serve the population as a whole … and that’s very different than the Republican perspective.”
Joshua Friedman, another member of Bend the Arc Pittsburgh, was among a group of three canvassers who traveled to the Robinson area two days prior to the election. Friedman estimates that the trio knocked on 120 doors.
“We got a lot of positive responses,” he said.
“We organized seven phone banks, two of which were held down in Mt. Lebanon, the rest were in Squirrel Hill. We made over 2,000 calls and spoke to around 250 voters,” added Forrest.
For “such a close election,” in many ways it was “decided” by the Jewish community, said Jon Tucker, a local point person for the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Rick Saccone made a big mistake on not running on his own merits,” said Tucker, who pointed out that as the RJC does not endorse candidates, he was speaking for himself. He “tried to run on the coattails of the executive branch. A lot of independent thinkers, myself included, didn’t like that.”
In a message to supporters, the Jewish Democratic Council of America said that the “election was a reminder of the impact we can have in shaping our country’s future. While we celebrate this victory, we refuse to lose sight of the ultimate goal of taking back congress this November.”
In November, Lamb will face incumbent GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus in the redrawn 17th Congressional Distrct. PJC
This story was updated from an earlier report.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.