The Race for District 18

Conor Lamb is finally, officially the U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 18th District

Well, that was something.

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Weeks after pulling off a stunning upset in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, Democrat Conor Lamb was sworn in as the newest member of Congress today, kicking off an expedited term he’ll serve out while simultaneously running in a new district — one that’s being created as part of an ongoing statewide redistricting effort.

Surrounded by members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, Lamb was sworn in around 5:30 p.m. following a vote in the House. His Oath of Office was administered by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“I’m honored to take this oath and join this House,” Lamb said from the House floor. “We are all in this together. We need solidarity with each other. We need universal programs and aspirations, and we need to honor the service of our fellow citizens. I will do my level best to reach out to find common ground to help this great American institution deliver the results we need and deserve.”

With the Oath of Office administered, Lamb enters a U.S. Congress in flux as existing members exit and both parties look to the upcoming midterms with all manner of urgency.

But Republicans are increasingly fearful of their odds, media reports indicate, and Lamb’s win in the reliably red 18th did nothing to quell those concerns.

In the 18th, Lamb ran as something of a moderate — a pro-gun, quasi pro-life Democrat who refused to embrace key elements of the national party structure. He was a Democrat, but not that kind of Democrat, some conservative voters gathered.

His win over Republican Rick Saccone, while narrow, amounted to a shot across the bow as Republicans look to maintain their grip on Trump Country districts, of which the 18th was certainly one, and maintain control of both the House and Senate.

With Lamb’s victory, Democrats believe they’ve found a recipe to flip similarly conservative districts nationwide, although the ingredients differ from place to place and it remains to be seen if they’re right.

The win 

The final District 18 votes were certified about a week ago, with Allegheny County the last of four counties with portions in the district to do so.

Allegheny’s certification came 20 days after the polls closed, bringing an official — and arguably merciful — end to a nail biter of a race, one that prompted partisan scrutiny, the unfulfilled promise of a legal challenge or recount and no shortage of media interest.

The neck-and-neck bout came as close as 95 votes at one point. With all results finalized, Lamb maintained his narrow lead over Saccone — 114,102 to 113,347. Libertarian candidate Drew Miller (the self-proclaimed “most hated man in America”) earned 1,381 votes.

Lamb’s win in the 18th delivered a massive morale boost for his party ahead of the 2018 midterms and a big question mark for Republicans scrambling to determine how this slice of Trump country fell from their hands at such a pivotal moment.

In the weeks after the election, Republicans — alleging voting irregularities and procedural snafus — toyed publicly with a possible challenge of the results but ultimately failed to make good on the threat. Representatives of the Saccone campaign and Republican Party were on hand as absentee votes and provisional ballots were counted and reviewed in Allegheny County where Lamb got his biggest boost in the suburbs surrounding the City of Pittsburgh. The tabulation process continued for weeks after the election.

And while challenges were made against some of the provisional ballots logged, those challenges were ultimately withdrawn March 22.

A day earlier, and eight days after the election, Saccone had conceded in a phone call to Lamb.

But the process wasn’t over. Even with no votes left to count, counties had to wait five days before certifying the results to allow for challenges against those results to be made. In the end, no such challenges were brought.

The Republican Party and Saccone were moving on.

Who is Conor Lamb?

Lamb was also a political novice before all of this.

A first-time candidate, Lamb stepped down from his job as a federal prosecutor less than a week before announcing his candidacy in the 18th late last year.

The Marine Corps veteran is a member of a politically prominent family. His uncle is Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb, and his grandfather, Thomas F. Lamb, was a state lawmaker from Allegheny County.

In District 18, Lamb quickly gained a momentum not expected by Saccone — a long-time state representative — out-fundraising Saccone by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, Saccone’s campaign saw large infusions of national Republican Party money as it became clear that what they expected to be an easy win in the 18th was likely to be anything but.

The months-long race was defined by door-to-door campaigning and vicious — and expensive — TV ad campaigns.

Lamb, of Mount Lebanon, spent much of his air time touting his military and law enforcement backgrounds and presenting himself as a pro-Second Amendment Democrat. He also spent the campaign distancing himself from U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and painted himself as a political peacemaker with a fresh perspective, an appeal to voters who view both chronic partisanship and entrenched politicians as the problem with Washington, D.C.

While Lamb didn’t see the same backing on a national scale as his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden did visit the area to lend his support.

What now?

While this marks the first time a Democrat has been elected to the 18th District seat in more than a decade, Lamb won’t be there for long.

The special election race was only about filling the remainder of former congressman Tim Murphy’s most recent term — roughly eight-and-a-half months in total.

Murphy resigned the seat last year amid a scandal involving a mistress and uncovered text messages urging her to have an abortion performed, the Post-Gazette reported at the time. Murphy, an anti-abortion Republican, held the seat for almost eight full terms — roughly 14 years in total.

Meanwhile, an ongoing redistricting fight in Pennsylvania is set to quite literally reshape the political landscape here within a matter of months. High courts at the state and federal level have dismissed Republican challenges to a new map expected to broadly favor Democrats.

Under that new map, the 18th District is gone, with new districts set to take its place.

Saccone has said he will run again — this time in the new 14th district.

And even before becoming District 18’s U.S. Rep., Lamb confirmed he would run in the May primary for what will be the new 17th Congressional District under a statewide redistricting plan. In March, Lamb told WTAE he remained focused on representing 18th District voters and would find time for campaigning as needed.

“I intend to represent the people of the 18th District this year, like I promised I would, and make sure they have a voice and vote down in Washington, and so that comes first, and we’ll find time for campaigning as we need to,” Lamb said.

This dynamic was clear even before Election Day, not that Lamb’s supporters seemed to mind.

At his election night party inside Cecil Township’s Hilton Garden Inn, Jennie Schilken of Bethel Park attended with her daughters, each wearing matching shirts that said “Conor Lamb for Congress 2018 (twice)”.

“Bring it on,” said Cathy, of Mount Lebanon, about the May primary, adding that she’d start campaigning for Lamb again right away.


MJ Slaby, a reporter/curator at The Incline, contributed to this article.

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