Lamb connecting with Pa. district
Democrat faring well in a stronghold for Trump
“This district has voted overwhelmingly Republican, but a large number of voters have blue-collar Democratic roots.”
Patrick Murray director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute
CANONSBURG, Pa. – If Democratic contender Conor Lamb wins Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District on Tuesday, it will send shock waves across the political landscape.
President Trump won here by 20 percentage points in 2016, and many strategists see this mostly white, workingclass district as a testing ground for the November midterms.
But don’t tell that to voters who live here, many of whom have not soured on Trump and are not part of the so-called Democratic resistance.
Lamb is benefiting from an energized Democratic base and a backlash against Trump. But voters also just like Lamb, and even Republicans are lukewarm about his GOP opponent, Rick Saccone.
Lamb “seems like the right guy. I mean, he’s talking the right things. He’s level-headed,” Mario Colaizzo, a 70year-old retired steelworker, told USA TODAY last week. “He just looks like the kinda guy that I would hire for that job. ... He’s educated, he’s a veteran ... and clean-cut, just the way I like it.”
“Conor is one of us,” Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome said after a gathering Thursday with Lamb and the Union Veterans Council in Canonsburg.
Lamb, 33, an ex-Marine and former federal prosecutor, knows how to pitch himself as an average guy. At the union meeting, Lamb joked that his beat-up work boots were probably stinky because he had been at a sheep farm that morning before going door to door to pitch himself to voters.
With Lamb on the ticket, Democrats in this sprawling district outside Pittsburgh feel they have a chance to win for the first time in 15 years. Polls show the special election to replace former GOP representative Tim Murphy, who resigned last fall, is a toss-up.
A Monmouth University poll released Monday gave the Democrat a 6-percentage-point lead, 51%-45%, if Democratic turnout is similar to previous special elections over the past year. The same poll showed voters evenly split on Trump: 49% approve of his job performance, and 49% disapprove.
“This district has voted overwhelmingly Republican in recent elections, but a large number of these voters have blue-collar Democratic roots. Lamb seems to have connected with them,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Saccone has dismissed the race’s competitiveness as “something to be expected” because it’s a special election. “If this was a regular race, I think you would see I’d be way far ahead,” Saccone said.
Saccone has tied himself closely to Trump, saying he’d be “a good wingman” for the president on foreign affairs, spending, the military and more.
“Rick Saccone will be a great, great congressman. He will help me very much,” Trump promised Saturday at a rally with Saccone in Moon Township.
Saccone, 60, has a lengthy résumé of public service. He’s an Air Force veteran who worked in North Korea and other global hot spots and now serves in the Pennsylvania state house.
Lamb has shied away from the national Democratic Party and has not taken an anti-Trump line. Instead, Lamb is playing up his support for veterans and unions — he’s even cautiously favorable about the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports Trump put in place last week — and is pitching himself as bipartisan.
Whoever wins the seat Tuesday won’t hold it for long. For the November midterms, neither Saccone or Lamb will live in the 18th District. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court scrapped the state’s current congressional map as an unconstitutional gerrymander and redrew it. A new map is expected to be in place by the midterms.
Much of what is now the 18th district will soon become even more Republican-leaning territory, giving Saccone a better shot in November whether he wins or loses on Tuesday. The new map will put Lamb in the state’s 17th district, now held by Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, which will become much more competitive if the Democratic contender wants to run again.
Democratic contender Conor Lamb, sporting a hat given to him at a rally Sunday with union workers, is running strong in a district that voted solidly Trump.