Though some progressives may be tempted to skip the celebrations, Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory over Republican Rick Saccone in the special election for the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania is worth saluting. This was a district Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016—a district so deeply red that Democrats didn’t even bother to put up a candidate against incumbent Tim Murphy in the past two election cycles. But the anti-abortion Republican had to resign in October after he was caught urging his lover to have an abortion, creating an open special election.
In nominating Saccone to replace him, the GOP picked a candidate who not only boasted “I was Trump before Trump was Trump” but actually worked as an interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Saccone has written numerous articles defending waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques. In keeping him out of Congress, Lamb has done the country a service.
Saccone’s defeat should also make both the White House and the national GOP extremely nervous. Trump went all-in for Saccone, making a personal visit to Moon Township, repeatedly tweeting support, and even timing his announcement of tariffs on steel in a way designed to help the Republican candidate. And while Lamb raised more money than his opponent—taking in $3.3 million in the last filing period, compared to just $ 700,000 for Saccone—that advantage was dwarfed by the right-wing PAC money. The National Republican Campaign Committee and Paul Ryan’s Congressional Leadership Fund each poured about $ 3.5 million into the race, with $1.3 million from the Republican National Committee and another $ 1.6 million from two Trump-aligned PACs. Lamb, meanwhile, received just over $300,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (though McClatchy reported a “stealth effort” that may have pushed the total above $1 million).
But while Lamb, a 33-year-old former federal prosecutor who served as a captain in the Marine Corps, has impeccable Democratic credentials—his grandfather, Thomas Lamb, was the majority leader of the Pennsylvania Senate; his uncle Michael is the current Pittsburgh comptroller—he never pretended to run as anything other than a centrist. In favor of coal and fracking, not in favor of single-payer health care, Lamb said he thought a $15 minimum wage “sounds high based on what I’ve been told by many small business owners in our area.” On abortion Lamb, a devout Catholic, said that while he personally believes “life begins at conception. I’ve always believed that and I believe it in all cases,” he also “would not outlaw a woman’s right to choose.”