For Democrats, Alabama was a shocker. Virginia was a tsunami. But Pennsylvania may end up being the bellwether.
The party, resurgent as President Trump’s first year in office draws to a scandal-ridden, unpopular close, will face its next major test on a potential path to winning back a majority in the House of Representatives in a March special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district.
The seat, held by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) since 2003, was left vacant following his resignation in October after a stunning report revealed that he had told a mistress to abort a possible pregnancy.
Comprising a mix of coal-mine country, rural regions in the southwest corner of the state, and the very wealthy suburbs outside of Pittsburgh, it’s the kind of district that has been trending Republican for at least a decade.
And it’s one where President Trump won by almost 20 points in the 2016 election, helping him win the state and ultimately the presidency.
But Democrats, who didn’t even put up a candidate to challenge Murphy in 2016, believe that they have a shot at winning this district back due to the strength of their candidate, a weaker Republican opponent, and a national climate that spells a wave for the party in next year’s elections.
Their hopes rest on 33-year-old veteran Conor Lamb, a former assistant U.S. attorney selected by local Democrats to be their standard-bearer last month.
“Each party has their base, but you have a guy like Conor who is going to have a lot of cross-party appeal,” John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, and candidate for lieutenant governor, told The Daily Beast. “I think the Democrats picked extremely well and I think the Republicans picked extremely poorly.”
Republicans selected conservative state Rep. Rick Saccone who has said in the past that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump” and is known for introducing the National Motto Display Act in 2013, which would have required public school districts statewide to post “In God We Trust,” in every building.
In the Keystone state, Democrats view Saccone as a political insider, a hobnobber in Harrisburg who eats meals on lobbyists’ dime and was previously endorsed by the Pennsylvania Right to Work Political Action Committee, an affront to the district’s large union population.
Saccone initially had pursued a run for the Senate against Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA) but later decided to enter the House race.