Pennsylvania election results should frighten Republicans in November

Conor Lamb turned a congressional district that Trump won by 20 points into a dead heat, signaling a potentially potent electoral coalition for Democrats

Barack Obama lagged far behind Hillary Clinton with moderate suburban voters. Hillary Clinton lagged far behind Obama among blue-collar Democrats.

Conor Lamb had none of those problems on Tuesday and it should frighten Republicans in November.

With Lamb holding a slight lead after the Pennsylvania special election but the race still too close to call, the Democrat managed to successfully woo both traditional Republicans repelled by Donald Trump and the traditional Democrats repelled by Hillary Clinton.

The result signals a potentially potent electoral coalition for Democrats in the midterms after Lamb managed to turn a congressional district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016 into a dead heat.

Democrats had overperformed in special elections throughout the Trump era. They picked up 40 legislative seats as well as a Senate seat in Alabama after the GOP nominated a candidate facing credible allegations of sexual assault in Roy Moore. However, they had yet to break through at the congressional level until now. Democrats had come closest in Georgia where Jon Ossoff could not pull off a win in a prosperous, traditionally Republican district where voters were repelled by Trump.

Lamb changed all of that. In traditionally Democratic areas in coal country, Lamb managed to do respectably. He benefited from an electorate that still was prone to voting for Democrats at the local level even though they had long since defected to the GOP nationally. In suburban Pittsburgh, Lamb appealed to voters in traditionally Republican areas who had been alienated by Trump’s Republican party. The prime example of this was his win in Upper St Clair, a well-to-do suburb known as the home of some of Pittsburgh’s most prominent professional athletes.

The circumstances of the race were unusual. It only occurred because the previous incumbent anti-abortion Republican was forced to resign after a sex scandal where it was revealed he encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. It had a major mismatch in candidate quality. Lamb was widely considered to be a perfect candidate for the district while his Republican opponent, Rick Saccone, was considered weak and thrown under the bus by national Republicans long before polls closed in the Keystone State.

But it reveals a couple of basic facts about the electorate. The Democratic voters who were fundamentally repulsed by Hillary Clinton will come back to the fold without her on the ballot. And the Republicans who were fundamentally repulsed by Donald Trump are still voting for Democrats in 2018. If that combination holds in November, it could not only give Nancy Pelosi the speaker’s gavel again but upset the fundamentals of American politics.


Ben Jacobs in Pittsburgh

The GuardianTramp

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