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As the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district came down to the wire Tuesday night, the spin machines on both sides of the political divide went into overdrive. Bizarrely, each finds itself in the position of being able to claim a victory, of sorts, regardless of the eventual outcome of the race. With midterm congressional elections just eight months away, this could be the most overhyped special election in recent memory. Adding to the election’s irrelevance is Pennsylvania’s redistricting battle, which may all but render the result of this special election moot in the longer term. On the other hand, this race held some vital lessons for both sides of the aisle.
By 11.30 pm Eastern Time Tuesday, with all but a handful of precincts still to report, Democrat Conor Lamb was leading his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, by less than 100 votes. Once the results from all precincts were in, Lamb had stretched his lead to a little less than 650 votes, and it appeared that victory was likely his. Although Lamb, and the Democratic Party, declared victory, the Saccone campaign refused to concede until all provisional and absentee ballots were counted. There is also the question of potential recounts, which the Republican Party has already raised.
The 18th district had been reliably red until now. Its residents voted overwhelmingly for President Donald Trump and sent Republican Representative Tim Murphy to the House seven times with large majorities. Murphy resigned in October 2017 following revelations of an extramarital affair with a woman who he encouraged to have an abortion when it seemed she might be pregnant.
Why Democrats Can Celebrate
Hoping to build momentum going into the November elections, the Democratic Party can certainly point to Tuesday’s special election as a sign that the Republican Party should be extremely concerned. Even if Saccone were able to pull off a surprising come-from-behind victory, the race should never have been this close. Lamb outraised his opponent by a considerable margin and Saccone had to rely on outside groups to pour money into the district. Additionally, the Republican received strong support from the administration, with Trump himself holding a recent stump rally for him.
The president’s appearance in the district certainly put a significant dent in Lamb’s lead in the polls, but the huge swing toward the Democrat can still not be dismissed. The Democrat spin on this race is that the result should terrify Republicans. Certainly, there is no getting around it: Whether Lamb is declared the victor or he falls slightly short, the result should never have been this close, and the Democratic Party appears to have the wind at its back.
The Silver Lining For Republicans
Although Democrats can celebrate, their prospects for regaining control of the House in November are still less than certain. Needing a net gain of 24 seats, the party must surely understand that Lamb’s impressive showing in Pennsylvania highlights the ideological divide within Democratic ranks. Lamb steered clear of bashing Trump and, as House Speaker Paul Ryan pointed out, distanced himself from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and touted himself as pro-life and pro-gun. He was also able to hold onto support from labor unions by aligning himself with the president on the subject of import tariffs.
As the progressive left tightens its grip on the Democratic Party, the winning formula for November seems as elusive as ever. Voter enthusiasm alone may not be sufficient in key swing districts across the country where Democratic candidates are running much further to the left of Conor Lamb. Moderates are becoming an endangered species within the party, and the circumstances that propelled Lamb to his likely victory will not be duplicated enough times for Democrats to use this particular election as a model for future success.
Additionally, the razor-thin victory for the Democrat – if victory it turns out to be – gives Republicans hope for regaining the Pennsylvania seat in the midterms.
As elections go, Pennsylvania’s 18th may well turn out to be a ‘nothingburger.’ On the other hand, it may just be a vital lesson for both parties. For Democrats, it proves that they have a winning formula, should they muster the fortitude to move back from the brink of extremist identity politics and radical left-wing social change. For the Republicans, it should be a wake-up call that they need to amplify the message of the positive direction in which Trump has moved the country.
The old idiom that all politics are local applies only to elections for state officials, these days. The Republican Party should be running on the message that every seat they turn over to Democrats in November brings the opposition one step closer to reversing the Trump agenda. Such an eventuality would stall the nascent economic surge, in addition to turning the clock back to Obama-era ‘social justice’ policies and foreign policy abdication.
When one cuts through the spin from both sides, the only question that remains is; which party will most effectively apply the lessons learned in this contest?
Ed ¬ Who really won the Congressional seat in the 18th district of Pennsylvania and why? Join Liberty Nation’s Scott D. Cosenza and Graham J. Noble for this revealing discussion on LNTV.