How Democrats Pulled an Upset in The PA-18 Special Election

Are local issues the Democrat’s key to conquering Trumpland? The results of PA-18 seem to say yes.

Democrat Connor Lamb edged Republican Rick Saccone in Tuesday’s special election for the congressional seat of Pennsylvania’s 18th district. The Trumps campaigned hard for Saccone, who underperformed in a district the president won by 20 points in November 2016.

Major media swarmed the district. Given Trump’s strong standing in PA-18, it was a litmus test of the president and his policies leading up to the 2018 midterms.

“I think that narrative sticks, and I think voters understood that,” said Julian Routh, a political reporter who covered the election for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Saccone aligned himself with Trump and the national conversation, referring to himself as “Trump before Trump was Trump.” Lamb, however, focused on local issues and won over support of labor unions. Routh believes putting local issues front and center was key to the victory.

“[Lamb] didn’t go after Trump like a lot of Congressional candidates are across the country,” Routh said. “He really wanted to make this about the voters, and he’s still stressing that.”

In the face of defeat, Republicans tried to put a positive spin on Saccone’s loss. In fact, many doubt he lost at all.

Routh attended Saccone’s election night party in Elizabeth Township, Pa., and said that despite the seeming loss, supporters remained positive.

“The mood was a little nervous throughout the evening, but towards the end of the night his supporters really thought Saccone would pull it out,” he said. “And I think a lot of his supporters still think he’s going to win.”

Voting totals were neck and neck all night. Lamb declared victory at 1:30 a.m. There’s no automatic recount rule for local races in Pennsylvania, but Routh and other experts expect some form of legal challenge in the near future.

The process behind a recount could be strenuous. “Three voters in each voting district must file a petition, plus pay 50 dollars, to reexamine the votes from their district,” Routh explained. “But candidates could also have three voters from a district present reasoning that there was fraud or negligence in some way.”

Recent redistricting legislation in Pennsylvania left many confused as to whether it was their day to vote. There were no reports of broken voter machines, but a number of people were turned away from the polls. Routh doesn’t think that confusion will have an impact on the recount.

The only downside for Democrats is the provisional nature of Lamb’s seat. Redistricting legislation means the 18th District will be split up come November. Routh says there’s a decent chance both Lamb and Saccone will serve in the House come 2019. But make no mistake: this was a big victory for Democrats and a major blow for the GOP.

“There are over 100 districts around the country that are even less Republican than PA-18 that Democrats can now have their eye on,” Routh said.

He added: “I think Republican candidates around the country are going to be very concerned looking at these results.”