The stakes are sky high in the Pennsylvania special election

The stakes are sky high in the Pennsylvania special election
© Getty Images

With two days to go, the fight for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district is a toss-up. Polls released last week show contradictory outcomes, but peg the leader’s margin as a tissue-thin three points. Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone are racing toward a Tuesday finish uncertain of the order of finish. Who actually wins will likely hinge on turnout and headlines.

Make no mistake, the closeness of the race is tied to Donald Trump’s double-digit slide in a district that he convincingly won less than two years earlier. Against this backdrop, a Lamb win will signal that if the Democrats can win there then they can win almost anywhere. As ex-Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE put it, “I promise ya, if Lamb wins you’re going to see a half-dozen Republicans say, ‘I’m not running again.’” Whether that actually happens remains to be seen

ADVERTISEMENT
In a normal year, this special election would not have been close. But this is not a normal year. On most Election Days, Pennsylvania’s 18th district is reliably Republican, despite a Democratic registration advantage. This is a not a district that shifted from Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Debate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Is Joe Biden finished? MORE to Trump. In the past five presidential cycles, the district went for George Bush, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 Conservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters MORE, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump FDA pick dodges questions on Trump's flavored vape ban Congress feels heat to act on youth vaping Progressive Democrats ramp up attacks on private equity MORE and Trump. It was never even close.

Until recently, Tim MurphyTim MurphyA federal abortion law might be needed Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Pennsylvania New Members 2019 MORE, a veteran eight-term Republican, who had run unopposed in his last two reelection bids, represented the Pennsylvania’s 18th district in Congress. When challenged in 2012, Murphy vanquished his opponent by better than 30 points. With that kind of track history, Tuesday’s contest should have been a snooze. But as we all know, it isn’t. Past was actually prelude.

It turns out that the avowedly pro-life Murphy was forced out after his mistress went public about terminating her pregnancy. While our president claims to be able to get away shooting someone in broad daylight, mere mortals like Murphy, Lamb and Saccone all have a far smaller margin for error. So, here is where they are.

Right now, momentum and buzz are with the Democrat. Already, reports have surfaced of Republicans forming circular firing squads, with figurative trigger fingers pointed right at Saccone. According to the GOP’s wise men, Saccone suffers from poor organization, a charisma deficit, and a lack of fundraising skills. To further complicate matters, the 60-year-old Saccone is facing a decades-younger opponent. For the record, Lamb is also a former Marine, one-time federal prosecutor, and double University of Pennsylvania graduate.

But Saccone’s quandary is not just about aesthetics, resumes, or even the Trump presidency. Rather, Lamb’s positions on the issues and the public’s perception of the Republican agenda appears to be weighing Saccone down. Tax cuts and the prospect of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiKlobuchar shuts down idea a woman can't beat Trump: 'Pelosi does it every day' Budowsky: Trump destroying GOP in 2018, '19, '20 On The Money: Senate scraps plan to force second shutdown vote | Trump tax breaks for low-income neighborhoods draw scrutiny | McConnell rips House Dems for holding up trade deal MORE did not halt Lamb’s candidacy.

Right off the bat, Lamb announced that he would not back Pelosi for House speaker, signaling his independence from the national party’s machinery. Beyond that, Lamb has resisted temptation to embrace liberal orthodoxies, which makes great sense in a district where hunting is a way of life.

For example, on the issue of guns, Lamb announced that his priorities were enforcing existing laws, and keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. That wouldn’t play on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but it’s good enough for government work in western Pennsylvania.

To be sure, the race is not lost for Saccone. History and demographics keep him in the game. The district is older and whiter than most, with minorities compromising less than 5 percent of residents. Clearly, it is not Coalition of the Ascendant Country, and nor for that matter is this Pennsylvania district a rerun of the Alabama Senate race, one that saw the Republican Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreFormer AG Sessions enters Alabama Senate race Campaign ad casts Sessions as a 'traitor' ahead of expected Senate run Doug Jones on potential challenge from Sessions: Alabama GOP primary will be 'really divisive' MORE turn into a human spectacle.

Beyond that, the latest jobs report shows an economy that is “awfully strong” with “room to run.” A monthly jobs gain of 313,000 may be as good as any campaign ad. On top of that, the upcoming meeting between President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un may add a momentary patina of competence to an administration beleaguered by Stormy Daniels, and a West Wing under siege.

A Democratic win on Tuesday ought to make Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE think of early retirement, while a Democratic loss should serve as a reminder that flipping the House is no easy task. In a matter of hours, we will know where things stand.

Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice.