By Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs
Billed as a referendum on the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district held true to its hype this week. In the weeks prior to the election, Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone spent a combined $5 million, in addition to outside contributions from interest groups totaling an estimated $15 million. The district has been a Republican stronghold for decades and saw President Trump win by a 20-point margin in 2016. Saccone, who currently serves as one of the most conservative members of the state House, made every effort to cozy up to the administration, hosting Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Mike Pence, and the President himself over the past few weeks. Lamb, on the other hand, portrayed himself as a moderate Democrat who heavily supported the 2nd Amendment and opposed Nancy Pelosi. Lamb also drew a clear distinction over labor issues, claiming that Saccone favored right to work laws that would decimate heavy traditions of United Steelworkers and United Mineworkers employees.
Ultimately, as polls closed on Tuesday and results came rolling in, it was apparent that the election would end up being close. So close, in fact, that the evening ended up too close to call. By morning on Wednesday, with nearly a quarter of a million votes in, Lamb held the narrowest of leads, by roughly 600 votes.
If the results stand, Democrats will proclaim a foundational rejection of the Trump presidency, spelling trouble for Republicans in November. If Saccone manages to upset the results with a strong showing in absentee ballots, Democrats still will point to Trump’s massive success in 2016 and the resultant backlash that cost the Republican nominee so much support.