The Republican versus Democrat split in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District special election shows a virtual tie between Rick Saccone and Conor Lamb, with Lamb with the slight edge.
It was a district that President Donald Trump carried by 20 points, but on the other hand, is one with a slight voter registration advantage for Democrats.
It’s also a district that is being eliminated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s latest redistricting scheme. Come November its geography won’t matter for the Congressional midterms.
So, what is the takeaway from this race? President Trump’s trade policies remain overwhelmingly popular in Pennsylvania.
Beneath the razor thin margin between the two parties is an overwhelming consensus in western Pennsylvania in favor of Trump’s call for “fair and reciprocal” trade. A mandate. Trump owes his presidency to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, and the silver lining in this result is that he should be in solid shape in these states headed into 2020. Trump remains popular in the district.
Both candidates nominally backed Trump’s 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum, with more than 99 percent of the vote going to the candidates who favored trade protection.
If there was a candidate in favor of the globalist position on trade, it was Libertarian candidate Drew Miller, who drew less than 1 percent of the vote. In western Pennsylvania, there is almost no constituency for that line.
If Saccone had not adopted the Trump position on trade, and if Trump and the national party had not come to the rescue for the campaign for funds and crowds, he would have been shellacked.
Also at play was Lamb’s more moderate stance on the Second Amendment and at least a professed pro-life stance on abortion compared to other Democrats. He ran on infrastructure and jobs and used union politics to his advantage. That plus an energized Democrat base — always the case for opposition parties when the midterms come around — made a huge difference for Lamb.
It tells Democrats how they might want to run their races in 2018, running more Blue Dog, Joe Manchin-style Democrats that were once prevalent in their caucus. Time will tell how that plays out in the coming months, as the national Democrat party moves further to the left.
For Congressional Republicans, who in Washington, D.C. remain deeply divided on Trump’s trade politics — unlike Republican voters who support it decisively — there is a tougher slog. They do not have much of a record on the issue, and their rhetoric following Trump’s announced tariffs sounded nominally like outright opposition.
White House Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn resigned over the issue.
Could that gut reaction by the GOP establishment against the President have made a difference in Pennsylvania? By all accounts, Saccone was an underwhelming candidate who lacked fundraising ability, organization and did not have any momentum to speak of until Trump came to the district the weekend before the election.
If you were a voter on the fence in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, Saccone’s appeals could have sounded insincere. His campaign website and letter does not even mention the trade issue. The material hardly mentioned jobs, either. Instead it was more a boilerplate Republican platform, not something tailor made for Pennsylvania.
To win, Saccone needed to pick up many of the Democrat votes that Trump carried in 2016, bringing the Trump base out but also having that crossover appeal that helped Trump win in Pennsylvania. Again, in this district, Democrats had a slight voter registration edge. This could have been an easy win but it required more targeting of Democrats and Independents who have voted Republican in the past few election cycles. Remind voters that Democrats have not delivered on their rhetoric.
At the end of the day it’s about in-roads. In Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, Lamb with a more moderate platform was able to bring Democrat votes home in a more conservative area. The lesson for Republicans in 2018 is to pay attention and in these swing districts build their coalitions beyond the traditional Republican base the way Trump did in 2016, and rally to the President, or pay the price in November.