More than a week after the polls closed in the closely watched and extremely tight special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, Republican Rick Saccone on Wednesday conceded defeat to Democrat Conor Lamb, saying while he was “disappointed with the outcome,” he remains “resolute in defending the voices of southwestern Pennsylvania voters.”
Vote totals are still being finalized, but at this point Lamb’s roughly 800 vote lead over Saccone remains unbridgeable, and Saccone’s concession on Wednesday confirms that he sees no path forward for himself in the 18th.
The district itself will soon cease to exist under a statewide redistricting plan, and both men are already running in the May primaries in new districts under that plan — Saccone in the new 14th district and Lamb in what will be the new 17th congressional district.
Lamb announced Saccone’s concession in a tweet around 7:30 p.m.
“Just got off the phone with my opponent, @RickSaccone4PA, who congratulated me & graciously conceded last Tuesday’s election,” Lamb tweeted, adding, “I congratulate Mr. Saccone for a close, hard-fought race & wish him the best.”
In a statement sent to KDKA journalist Ken Rice, Saccone confirmed the concession and said, “While there are less than 800 votes separating us, the people of the 18th District deserve to have a voice representing them in Congress.”
The process continues
So, is that that?
Generally speaking, a concession is just a formality, a political gesture with no bearing on the actual outcome of a race — although it’s certainly a strong indication of what that outcome will be.
As NPR reports, there is almost no legal effect from a concession. It’s not as if Saccone calling Lamb to concede will halt the election procedures and reviews still underway across the 18th.
There were four counties with portions in the 18th District — Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland — and four counties where the election results have yet to be finalized. Vote totals are final in all but Allegheny County, where a spokesperson said final certification is still more than a week away.
Representatives for Saccone’s campaign closely monitored the vote counts and reviews conducted in counties like Allegheny — a key source of Lamb support at the polls on Election Day — over the past week. Lamb’s lead widened slightly during that process.
On Wednesday, Allegheny County spokesperson Amie Downs said the process continues with no impact from Saccone’s concession.
“We will decide the provisional ballots on Friday,” Downs explained by email. “Those decisions can be appealed, but must be done within two days. By the end of the day Monday, we will know whether there is anything pending. As the latest, results will be posted on Wednesday on the county’s website. Assuming there is nothing to impede that, those results would then become official in 5 days. Results will be officially certified on April 2nd by the Board of Elections.”
(The five-day waiting period allows for legal challenges to be made against the results. Such challenges are also unfettered by the delivery of a candidate’s concession.)
Until final certification happens in Allegheny County, Lamb won’t be sworn in.
Lamb and Saccone were both running to fill out the remainder of former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy’s term — roughly 8 months in total — after Murphy resigned amid scandal, touching off the special election to replace him.
What does it mean?
Concessions aren’t written in stone either.
Then-presidential candidate Al Gore famously recanted his election night concession in 2000 after Florida’s results were brought into question. Gore later re-conceded following a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Saccone’s delayed concession also isn’t without precedent. In 2010, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska similarly waited a week to concede her race to challenger Joe Miller after Miller emerged with a narrow 1,668 vote lead in a primary there.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said Saccone almost certainly waited due to the narrow margin separating him and Lamb — just 97 votes late on election night. Madonna said there’s also the matter of Saccone’s newly confirmed campaign in the new 14th congressional district.
“…over 225,000 votes cast and about 600 or so separated them,” Madonna said. “He waited until more votes, absentees and provisionals, were counted. He’s also running in a new district so it makes no sense to take the 18CD with him. That’s no help at all.”
Decisions from a federal district court and the U.S. Supreme Court this week upholding a court-ordered redrawing of Pennsylvania’s congressional district map mean the district will be replaced and that retaining it after fulfilling the remainder Murphy’s term is no longer a possibility.
It’s also unclear what Saccone’s concession means for an expected Republican-led challenge of the election results. The Republican Party of Pennsylvania sent a letter on March 16 to the Pennsylvania Department of State urging an investigation of voter irregularities in last week’s special election. An email to a state GOP spokesperson was not returned Wednesday. An email to a Saccone campaign spokesperson was also not immediately responded to.
And while Saccone’s concession means his campaign believes a loss in the 18th is now mathematically unavoidable, it’s not as if Democrats have been waiting for his call.
Lamb declared himself the winner on election night and his campaign and supporters have been calling him congressman-elect since then. In response to questions about Saccone’s concession call on Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cheekily responded by reissuing the same victory-declaring press release it had one week earlier.
Of course there is a symbolism to a concession, arguably more than any practical effect.
As Time magazine reports, the concession speech is a “product of the 20th-century media environment rather than any law or election policy” and has become something voters expect to hear: a call for unity, the symbolic closing of a political chapter, a way to legitimize a new democratically elected authority and to encourage one’s supporters to give the other side a chance.
And while a public concession speech usually follows a private one like that delivered to Lamb by phone last night, the tradition itself has evolved and Saccone’s tweeted statement might be the modern-day equivalent.
Anyway, both men have other things to worry about now and, perhaps more crucially, new campaigns to run — both hoping to avoid having to deliver any concession the next time around.