Tomorrow there will be a special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District pitting Republican Rick Saccone against Democrat Conor Lamb. This is generally a safe district for Republicans. Candidate Trump carried it by 19 points.
Democrats hope – and many are convinced – that young Lamb will flip the seat to the Democrats and foreshadow a wave victory in November that will give them control of the U.S. House. It is certainly possible, but by far not assured.
Most of the polls suggest that the margin in the race is “razor thin” and beyond the ability to project a winner. In such an allegedly close race, it is perilous to make a prediction – but I shall regardless. I think Saccone will hold the seat for the GOP.
If history is any indicator – and it may not be – the fact that the race is too close to call should bode well for Saccone. Polls tend to favor Democrats. It is rare that a Democrat candidate hits his mark, and even rarer to exceed it. Of course, the most obvious and extreme example is the 2016 presidential race.
Rather than admit to a bias in their samples, pollsters usually gloss over their mistakes by claiming a “last minute shift” among voters – even though very few voters change their minds at the last minute. And even though it is in the so-called margin of error, Saccone does have a lead of two or three points.
The margin of the Trump vote is a significant factor, but my prediction is also based on the fact that in every election for the past 10 years, the Republican candidate garnered two-thirds of the vote – and ran uncontested in the past two elections. That is a lot of history to overcome.
So, why is it a contest at all? There are several factors that give rise to Democrat hopes.
It is generally believed in Democrat circles and among the elitist media that President Trump’s personal popularity – or lack thereof – is a drag on the voters. Running against the man has not proven to be effective in the past – and yet Democrats are again running against the Trump personality as opposed to his policies. They focus on his name-calling, self-promotion, past accusations of sexual misconduct and unsubstantiated claims of Russian Collusion. This time, however, a lot of voters not only like what Trump promises to do policy-wise, but what he has actually done.
Republican voters not only like where the economy is heading, but they believe that Trump gets the lion’s share of the credit despite the Democrats efforts to attribute it all to President Obama. They like the concept of de-regulation and don’t much care about any specific examples that give the Democrat’s apoplexy. They like that the Trump administration is rebuilding the military that atrophied under Obama. They like a foreign policy that is defeating ISIS and forcing North Korea to the table.
Democrat strategists look to New Jersey, Virginia and Alabama as positive omens. But are they? Virginia and New Jersey have been Democrat strongholds for some time – and New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie was an anomaly. Alabama had nothing to do with Trump or voting trends. Joe Moore was a disaster as a candidate – and even with all that baggage, he almost won. Any other Republican candidate would have easily carried the state for the GOP.
It is also noteworthy that while Democrats have picked up a number of local offices held by Republicans, they have yet to defeat a Republican for a House seat since Trump was elected.
Another reason for Democrat optimism is the candidate himself. Lamb is about as conservative a candidate as can ever gain a Democrat nomination. He will vote against Nancy Pelosi, is a defender of the Second Amendment and personally opposes abortion. These may make him look more appealing on the ballot, but they have virtually no meaning in terms of his service in Congress.
Should Democrats take the House, Lamb may cast a perfunctory vote against Pelosi for Speaker, but she will become Speaker and Lamb will have to function under her leadership. His stand on the Second Amendment is a bit shaky. It remains to be seen just how far up the ladder of gun control he will go when the actual votes need to be cast in Congress. His “I personally oppose abortion but will not interfere with a woman’s decision” will not appeal to any pro-lifer.
It will be virtually impossible for Lamb to break with liberal Democrat positions over a broad range of votes as a congressman. From day one, the pressure will be on him to march in lockstep on key issues. As a party with an authoritarian gene, Democrat leaders do not tolerate dissension in the ranks. Most conservative voters understand all that.
To understand the dynamic that Alabama’s Democrat Senator Doug Jones faces – and that Lamb would face if elected – one only needs to harken back to when Rahm Emmanuel, as head of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, recruited moderate Democrats in moderate districts. It worked. Many were elected, and the Democrats took control of the House. That new class of conservative Democrats were then pressured or were predisposed to voting the Party’s liberal agenda -- and in the next cycle two, they were virtually all defeated.
Democrats also believe that their base is energized. Women and Millennials will show up in unprecedented numbers, they believe. That has been a claim since Geraldine Ferraro was the Democrat candidate for Vice President way back in 1984. If there has been any thread of consistency in the past decades, it is the disappointment over turn out. To support that argument, they tend to dwell on the exception, President Obama, and not the rule.
Even if Lamb is the most conservative candidate the Democrats are willing put up, he is still not the real thing, and I think when it comes time to cast a ballot in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, the majority – which is traditionally Republican -- will vote for the real thing. Just my opinion.