Will Conor Lamb pull off the biggest political upset since Donald Trump became president?
The most interesting political race of 2018 may not be in November but on March 13 in Pennsylvania’s 18th district.
The race between Conor Lamb, the Democrat and Rick Saccone of the GOP, was considered a likely blowout in a heavily Republican district that went for Trump by 19 points and still gives him an approval rating of 55 per cent.
Lamb has run an inspired campaign, removing the Nancy Pelosi issue by stating he will vote against her for leadership. He refuses to discuss Trump, keeping his campaign speeches focused directly on local issues. He has presented a moving target, pro-gun, personally opposed to abortion.
Now opinion polls show the race a toss-up forcing Republicans including Trump to scramble to head off the immediate threat. Trump is set to make a second visit there shortly and regularly tweets about the race calling on his supporters to back Saccone.
But nothing, even spending $9 million and bringing the president in to canvass seems to help.
Some cynics say his pledge on steel tariffs was directed as much at the Pennsylvania steel workers, whose numbers are shrinking, as at the American people
The district is blue collar, white ethnic Catholic territory, once a natural Democratic base but recently it has gone heavily for the GOP.
The matchup will be between the Democratic challenger Irish American Lamb who started as a rank outsider and Saccone who was the overwhelming favorite to win the seat formerly held by disgraced Congressman Tim Murphy who had it for 15 years.
In October 2017, reports emerged that Murphy had pressured his girlfriend to abort her pregnancy despite his hardline anti-abortion stance. House Speaker Paul Ryan quickly censured Murphy and forced him to tender his resignation
Following that it was revealed that there was “a culture of abuse and harassment in Murphy's congressional office seat.”
Murphy didn’t even draw an opponent the last two times he ran, giving Republicans little cause for concern in the early days.
Then the polls started changing.
In early January, Gravis had Saccone up by a 46/34 margin. In February it was 46/40. Then a Monmouth College survey gave Saccone a mere three-point lead. On Monday, Emerson College has the first public poll with Lamb in the lead 48/45.
Political expert Mike Allen in Axios is predicting doom for the GOP
“Top Republicans sound increasingly resigned to losing a special House election in Pennsylvania Trump Country a week from today, after party-affiliated groups spent more than $9 million on a race that should be a “gimme.””
Lamb comes from strong Irish stock. His uncle, Jim Lamb, is honorary Irish consul in Pittsburg and the most prominent Irish American in the city. His grandfather ran the Democratic Party machine in the state while his uncle is Pittsburg controller
Conor Lamb is just 33, a former marine, whose youthful looks, firm handshake and confident demeanor has played well in a district that should be foreign to Dems. He may be the straw in the wind who breaks the GOP’s elephant’s back to mix metaphors
If he wins his victory will signify not just a wave, but a tsunami against the Republicans in November. A 20-point swing would sweep the Republican majority out to sea in both the House and Senate.
* Niall O’Dowd is the author of the newly released Abraham Lincoln and the Irish - The Untold Story (Skyhorse Press) available here.