Lamb Pushes to Counter Pro-Trump Tide in PA-18

Lamb Pushes to Counter Pro-Trump Tide in PA-18
Antonella Crescimbeni/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Lamb Pushes to Counter Pro-Trump Tide in PA-18
Antonella Crescimbeni/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Story Stream
recent articles

WAYNESBURG, Pa. – Conor Lamb, the Democrat running in a Republican stronghold that overwhelmingly supported President Trump in 2016, likely needs everything to go right Tuesday to win the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

Some of his supporters are gaining confidence that everything might, indeed, go right. 

“If we get everybody out to vote, if it doesn’t rain or snow, we’re going to win,” said Linda Andrews, the chair of the Washington County Democratic Committee.

That sense of optimism was palpable as Lamb rallied here with about 300 supporters and members of the United Mine Workers union Sunday afternoon, hoping to shore up his standing with labor, a constituency that will need to support him in droves Tuesday if he’s going to defeat state Rep. Rick Saccone.

Lamb spoke only briefly, praising the union members in the hall as the “heart and soul” of his campaign and promising to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits and to support legislation safeguarding their pensions. The event came two days after he held a get-out-the-vote rally with the steelworkers union, which itself came just days after he campaigned with former Vice President Joe Biden and other union members. 

President Trump won PA-18 by nearly 20 points in 2016, and remains relatively popular here. Though the president looms over most discussions of this race nationally, Lamb didn’t mention him once at Sunday’s rally, even though the Trump visited the district the night before to support Saccone. There, Trump criticized the Democratic candidate extensively, nicknaming him “Lamb the sham” and saying he’d be a party-line Democrat in Congress.

Rather than take the bait, Lamb instead pushed back against the more than $10 million GOP groups have put into the race. In television ads, Republicans have attacked his record as a prosecutor and compared him to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Several national Democratic groups have invested in the contest, though to a much smaller degree. But Lamb has outraised Saccone by a 5-to-1 margin, and it has mostly been his campaign pushing back against the onslaught.

“They use these same tactics everywhere around the country but I think when they came to Western Pennsylvania, they weren’t counting on what they were going to find here,” said the 33-year-old Marine veteran.

Some voters have grown frustrated with the hardball tactics. John Rigi, 63, a Greene County member of the mine workers’ union, wouldn’t say if he voted for Trump in 2016, but said he liked some of the things the president has done, including shaking up Washington. But Rigi said he plans to vote for Lamb and criticized the attack ads.

“That mudslinging, that’s no way to win,” he said. “I think our forefathers would roll over in their graves. People have got to learn to get along.”

Still, some of the attacks have worked to a degree. Lamb ran a TV ad where he faced the camera directly to remind voters that he wouldn’t support Pelosi as leader, which Republicans took as a sign their efforts to link the two had moved the needle.  

Paul Berginc, a retired airline mechanic, had been a Democrat for most of his life, but switched parties and supported Trump in 2016, saying that the Democratic Party “left me.” Asked about Lamb at the Trump-Saccone rally Saturday, he scoffed, dismissing the candidate as a “Pelosi Democrat.” When a reporter pointed out that Lamb had said he would not support the California congresswoman, Berginc shrugged it off:

 “I don’t care what he says. I would say anything too, if I were in his shoes, to get elected and that’s what he’s doing. I don’t believe it one bit.”

Lamb’s lack of support for Pelosi isn’t the only thing separating him from the national party. With increasing fervor, many lawmakers and Democratic officials have been pushing for new gun control measures after a gunman killed 17 people last month at a Florida high school. But Lamb, who featured himself shooting a rifle in an early TV ad, said after the shooting that he doesn’t support new gun laws. And Bill Kortz, a state legislator, said he tried to allay the concerns of some steelworkers who want the Second Amendment protected.

“Come on, man -- he’s a Marine!” Kortz said he told them. “Marines love guns, let’s go. C’mon, man. What are you talking about? This man is good with the Second Amendment and anybody that tells you that, they’re full of crap.”

Republicans hope that could be the biggest issue to drive a wedge between Lamb and his party’s base voters, perhaps depressing turnout. Though Lamb needs to win crossover Republicans and blue-collar workers to be successful Tuesday, he also needs strong turnout from reliable base Democrats.

Candice Buchanan, 39, who works at the courthouse in Waynesburg, said gun control is one of the issues that’s most important to her, and acknowledged that she and Lamb disagreed on it. But that didn’t affect her support.

“I am not a single-issue voter, even though that does bother me,” Buchanan said at the rally. “I’m not a person who wants to take guns completely away, I’m just a person who wants common-sense gun control. I feel like there’s more room to work with Conor Lamb than [with] the opponent.”

Overall, Buchanan said she is excited about Lamb’s candidacy. She praised his youth, and said he is in touch with issues she cares about, including student loan debt. She said the race has given her and her friends with similar viewpoints a reason to be enthused about politics.

“In the last couple years, I’ve just started to feel so powerless, so it’s been nice to just see a candidate that I respect,” Buchanan said. “Because a lot of the time I don’t trust so many of them.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

Show comments Hide Comments