In the 18th District of Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb has, most likely, squeaked out a win in a district that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
So what do we learn from this?
First, let’s examine what we know about this race.
1) Conor Lamb is NOT a progressive candidate.
2) Rick Saccone was not a top of the line candidate.
3) This district will not exist by the next election.
4) The Republican Party sank an extraordinary amount of money into this race while the Democratic forces put very little in support.
5) Conor Lamb was a great fundraiser on his own, and put together his own centrist message without outside help.
Now that is a lot to absorb, so let’s try to figure out what that means for Congressional elections coming up in the fall.
That first item is important. Conor Lamb did not run on a progressive platform. In fact, he stated that he would prefer leadership in Congress that did not include Nancy Pelosi and that he was not favorable to gun safety legislation. The district, itself, is very conservative and Lamb fashioned a very clever centrist message which appealed to the district’s core values. But he did not shy away from being a Democrat either – he is pro-choice, ran against the GOP tax plan, and supports a fix to the ACA.
On the other hand, Rick Saccone never could settle on a message. He was tentative about Trump at first, then fully embraced him. And he made plenty of unforced errors. Republicans in Washington did not find a way to help Saccone and in the end almost threw him under the bus.
Going into the fall, Pennsylvania will be fully redistricted and Lamb and Saccone will both be in different redrawn districts. Lamb’s will be slightly more blue and Saccone will fall into a fairly competitive one. Which made the Republican investment in this election all the more curious. Obviously, they were very afraid of the message a loss could send and their worst fears were realized.
The key thing in PA18 is that Lamb understood his district well and was not afraid to venture into positions that were unique to him – and not part of some national message.
Can that translate in elections across the country? Well, yes and no. Democrats can win with a national message in a lot of districts – but if they want to compete in red areas as well, that message will need to be narrowed to their own district.
I guess the bottom line is that Democrats need to open up the tent if they want that “blue wave” to materialize. We can’t have litmus tests. The candidates have to know and understand the people they will represent.
Which brings me to the progressive movement. Progressives are going to have to be realistic about candidates like Conor Lamb. He won because he was NOT a progressive. He won because he fashioned his own message.
As progressives, our goal is progressive policy. To promote that, we need to have the potential of a majority vote in Congress. Yes, that means we will need to support a lot of progressive candidates – but in order to pass real progressive legislation, we need to have an opportunity to persuade centrist and semi-conservative candidates who have the ability to win in districts that have less than progressive priorities….to convince them that they need to support an agenda which will succeed for everybody.
So let’s have the progressive policy debate AFTER we have an opportunity of working with a majority in Congress.
Win first – debate like hell later.