In what could be a harbinger for Democrats ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections, Conor Lamb has likely defeated GOP state representative Rick Saccone in a special election for the right to represent Pennsylvania’s 18th District in the U.S. House.
Lamb, 33, is a former U.S. Marine officer and former federal prosecutor who has never run for public office before.
Clinging to a narrow lead early Wednesday morning, Lamb led Saccone by 627 votes of the 228,378 cast. As of Wednesday, provisional and military ballots had yet to be counted, but Lamb claimed victory.
Addressing supporters at a Tuesday evening rally, Lamb said the key to his victory in a district President Trump decisively won in 2016 was earning back the support of traditional Democratic voters who defected to the president two years earlier.
Political analysts say Pittsburgh suburbs, often swing areas in the district, were crucial in Lamb’s win.
As Lamb’s slight lead held into Wednesday morning and speculation the GOP was weighing all legal options including a possible recount, Mr. Saccone said he would not concede until all ballots were counted. According to multiple media sources, the campaign is considering a lawsuit over alleged voting irregularities, including inaccurate ballot counts and a lack of oversight in absentee vote tallies.
“We’re not giving up. We’re going to win it,” Saccone defiantly told supporters.
Unlike other states which maintain electoral provisions to trigger automatic recounts for close elections, Pennsylvania law requires petitions to initiate a vote review.
On the campaign trail, Lamb distanced himself from Democratic leadership and largely ignored President Trump, preferring to focus his campaign on supporting the district’s large union membership, preserving Social Security and Medicare, moderate views on abortion and guns and backing the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Seen as a rebuke to Trump, who won the same district by 20 points in 2016 and who personally visited the Keystone State to campaign for the GOP candidate, Saccone was the beneficiary of over $10 million from outside groups, roughly 10 times the amount Lamb received from his Democratic donors.
As the GOP scrambled to explain Lamb’s strong showing, the White House described the potential loss as a virtual “tie.”
“The Democrat in the race really embraced the president’s policies and position, where he didn’t embrace Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leader,” White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Although the district has had its boundary redrawn for the November 2018 mid-term election, the seat had been held by the GOP since 2003 and its previous Republican officeholder, Tim Murphy, had run unopposed in 2014 and 2016.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated.
[AP] [Washington Post] [Reuters] [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Philly.com] [NBC News] [CNN] [Photo courtesy Drew Angerer/Getty Images via Politico]