On October 23rd, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that the special election for the empty seat in the state’s 18th district would be held on March 13th, 2018. The vacancy was caused by the surprising resignation of Representative Tim Murphy after the Pittsburgh Gazette broke a story reporting that he had encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. Adding to the shock was the fact that Murphy has long record purported a strict pro-life posture. Reports of mistreatment towards his Congressional staff have also surfaced.
The PA-18 is a district in the Southwestern corner of the state, just outside of the city of Pittsburgh. Current census data shows that the population of the district is overwhelmingly white and has a median income level of about $60,000. Although Murphy had held the seat since 2003, voter information imply that there may be some Democratic maneuvering room. While the redrawn district lines in 2002 drew harsh criticism, voter rolls suggest that that are more registered Democrats than Republicans and that roughly 10% of registered voters are Independent. Donald Trump’s victory of almost 60% of the vote may imply that the population identifies as Democrats, but votes Republican in response to what they consider culture wars.
In preparation for the special election, the parties each chose a nominee to run out of a packed pool of candidates. Democrats chose former Marine and federal prosecutor Conor Lamb. Lamb grew up in the Pittsburgh area is from a family that has other experiences within Pennsylvania Democratic politics. His campaign is specifically focused on his connection to the community, both by charging criminals and building trust between civilians and law enforcement. Look out for Conor Lamb on the Millennial Politics podcast later this winter.
Republicans chose current PA House member Rick Saccone (PA-39), who previously served in the military and in the George W. Bush administration. Earlier this year Saccone announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Casey. His switch the Congressional race in the 18th House district seems to suggest his desire for higher political office rather than a passion for a specific seat. He is considered one of the most conservative members of the State House and is quoted as saying that he was “Trump before Trump” since he ran on “the same agenda in 2010…the president just nationalized it.” Some of his more infamous legislative initiatives include an attempt to require all schools to display the phrase “In God We Trust” and a memo condemning Chuck E. Cheese’s policy against firearms.
While polls are still calling the race as ‘likely Republican’, it is another instance of an election that is already closer than expected. Even a strong, but unsuccessful, bid from Lamb would prove that the Democrats can be competitive even in the most surprising areas. If Lamb wins, this would seem to be a rebuff of Trump and Trumpian ways. A young, millennial Democrat beating a hard-right, anti-Chuck E. Cheese conservative seems like the perfect way to kick off a year of midterm elections.