Pennsylvania’s Special House Race Is Trial Run for Midterm Strategies

Pennsylvania’s Special House Race Is Trial Run for Midterm Strategies – WSJ

Democrats and Republicans look for lessons to apply in November

In Pennsylvania’s special election for a U.S. House seat on Tuesday, both parties are road testing tactics they want to deploy in November’s midterm elections.

But the peculiar politics of the state, whose congressional map will be different in the fall, make it difficult for either party to carry the spoils of Tuesday’s election into the next vote.

The contest pits Democrat

Conor Lamb,

a former federal prosecutor and marine who presented himself as independent from the national party, against Republican

Rick Saccone,

a state lawmaker who has sought to tether himself to President

Donald Trump

and his policies.






The 18th is about 11 pts.

more Republican than the nation overall

Boundaries to be used in November










Democrat Conor

Lamb lives in

the new 17th, a

more closely

divided district

Republican Rick

Saccone lives in

the new 18th, which

leans Democratic by

about 13 points

New districts







Current 18th




Lamb (D)


Elizabeth Twp.

Rick Saccone (R)



The seat became vacant when GOP Rep. Tim Murphy resigned in October after it was revealed the anti-abortion lawmaker asked a woman with whom he’d had an affair to consider terminating a pregnancy.

The district, which covers parts of four counties southwest of Pittsburgh, backed Mr. Trump by 20 percentage points in 2016 and has voted so heavily Republican that Democrats failed to field a candidate in the last two elections.

Mr. Trump and Vice President

Mike Pence

both campaigned for Mr. Saccone, yet experts from both parties were predicting a tight race, which could rattle incumbent Republicans fighting to hold their House majority and energize Democrats hoping to oust them.

“If Lamb wins, there isn’t a congressional district in the country where the anti-Trump Democrats won’t think: ‘If we turn out in big numbers we can win this thing,’ ” said former

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell,

a onetime chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Conversely, if Mr. Saccone comes out on top the Republican plan to tarnish Democratic candidates by linking them to House Democratic Leader

Nancy Pelosi,

of California, will be reinforced—and likely repeated in the fall.

Still, whoever wins Tuesday’s special election likely won’t have a hold on the district for long. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court last month redrew the state’s congressional districts, placing the homes of both Messers. Lamb and Saccone into different districts for the November elections.

That means both candidates may start a new campaign—in new districts—as early as Wednesday.

Win or lose on Tuesday, Mr. Lamb is expected to file for election against Republican

Rep. Keith Rothfus

in a district that backed Mr. Trump by just 2.6 percentage points. Mr. Lamb has refused to address the November election until after Tuesday’s special election.

Mr. Saccone, whose home will be in a heavily Democratic district represented by Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle, told a local news outlet he plans to run instead in a nearby district that Mr. Trump carried by 29 percentage points.

Pennsylvania’s filing deadline for the November elections is next week and the primary is scheduled for May.

During the special election, the only race on the national radar in recent months, Mr. Lamb built a fundraising juggernaut, raising and spending more than $3 million, a staggering sum for a House race. Democrats running in November who have to compete for funds against candidates nationwide will hope to raise a fraction of Mr. Lamb’s amount.

Mr. Lamb also fused the populist economic policies of liberal

Sen. Bernie Sanders

with a social conservative agenda more typically aligned with Republican lawmakers.

He voiced opposition to Mrs. Pelosi, backed Mr. Trump’s new tariffs on imported steel, adopted a relatively conservative position on abortion and campaigned at local gun shows—though he did support background checks for new gun purchases after 17 people died at the February high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“It is not repeatable by others,” said

Jon Soltz,

the founder of VoteVets, a Democratic group that spent $350,000 on TV ads backing Mr. Lamb. “He did not need money other than his own and nobody else can do that. He had enough money to run the race that he wanted to run.”

Mr. Saccone, a state legislator, relied on support from the National Rifle Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and anti-abortion groups such as the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

Washington Republicans spent the closing weeks of the special-election campaign privately complaining about Mr. Saccone’s performance as a candidate and failure to aggressively raise money. Mr. Saccone spent just $613,000, much of which was transferred from campaign accounts of GOP members of Congress.

Republican groups spent more than $10 million to help his candidacy and Mr. Trump traveled to stump for Mr. Saccone at a Saturday night rally in the district.

“In this environment bad candidates and bad campaigns won’t cut it,” said

Corry Bliss,

executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC backed by House Speaker

Paul Ryan,

which spent $3.5 million on the race. “The way it’s supposed to work is the campaign makes it to the 20-yard line and the outside groups get you to the end zone. Here we had a campaign that was so bad they couldn’t even find the field.”

Write to Reid J. Epstein at

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