A Marine officer, and a federal prosecutor known for hard-fought and won major drug cases and convictions, Conor Lamb, 33, is the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District race under way today, March 13 in the southwestern region of the Keystone State.
The 18th voted overwhelmingly for Pres. Donald Trump. Is Lamb a long shot in a red district in the formerly blue state (until the 2016 election saw the TV reality show host and millionaire developer turn it red)? Not according to polls and in the wake of the upset in Alabama for the GOP last fall, it’s the first in the 2018 race that could push Democrats to their hoped-for Congressional majority, but that would mean flipping 24 Republican-held House seats.
This is one of those races.
1. Lamb Didn’t Just Fall Off a Turnip Truck Into the Pennsylvania Political Arena
Conor Lamb’s grandfather Thomas Lamb, described in his 2015 obituary as “an Irish Catholic immigrant’s son from the West End who rose to become leader of the state Senate Democrats in the 1970s,” higher education lobbyist and legislative affairs “point man” for then-Gov. Robert P. Casey, served in the Pennsylvania state House for eight years, and was a state senator for eight more years, the last four as Senate majority leader. He died at age 92.
His uncle Mike Lamb, an attorney, is Pittsburgh’s controller and had previous Pennsylvania government experience.
Lamb was born in Washington D.C., raised in Mt. Lebanon, went to Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, earned a degree in political science from University of Pennsylvania and in 2009, graduated from Penn Law. After law school, Lamb entered Marine officer school, was commissioned and began prosecuting cases while stationed in Japan including a high profile sexual misconduct case against a Marine.
Lamb ended his full-time service for the Marine Corps in 2013 but signed on as a reserve. Also in 2013, Lamb clerked for a federal judge in New York before returning to Pittsburgh to serve the Department of Justice as an assistant US attorney there where he made a name for himself prosecuting significant and high profile drug cases. His campaign website described it this way: “(Lamb) helped establish the Justice Department’s Pittsburgh office as a national leader in the fight against the heroin epidemic, working to build partnerships between law enforcement and community members in places that have been hit hardest by the crisis.”
2. Lamb’s List of 7 Priorities Ticks All the Boxes, Especially for Democrats
In a preface to the list of his priorities on his campaign website, Lamb writes, “There’s an old saying that if everything is important, nothing is. My first priority is to get things moving again. I will work with anyone to protect our people and bring good jobs here. I will go to Washington with strong convictions and an open mind. And when I’m there, I’ll never forget that the only people I work for are right here at home.”
“My only bias is the one they taught us in the Marines: a bias for action. It’s time that our leaders in Washington do the work we send them there to do. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Now.” Number one on the list is combating the heroin epidemic. “There are drug dealers on the street, in doctors’ offices, and in drug company boardrooms, and we need to pass legislation that guarantees every one of them will face justice for their crimes,” he vows.
Next up is “no more stalling” on jobs and infrastructure saying the region needs “modern airports, roads, and bridges, locks, and dams – to move people and goods into and out of our region, to attract new businesses, and to create jobs. We need a secure, reliable electric grid that cannot fail” and infrastructure efforts to ensure safe drinking water. And, serious job training and retraining efforts for the jobs of today and tomorrow, not yesterday.
Lamb, if elected, plans to make healthcare more affordable, protect Medicare and Social Security, and reform “our broken student loan system.”
3. A Win in Trumpland Would Be Another Upset for the GOP & a Coup for Democrats
The 18th district in Pennsylvania is solid Trump country, or at least it was in 2016 when Trump won by more than 20 percentage points. The district, consisting of around 700,000 people, with approximately 650,000 white, in the south-of-Pittsburgh suburbs has an aging population, according to the US Census. Some 400,000 people are middle-aged or older.
In 2016, Trump won the district by 20 points. So Democrats are salivating over the possibility of a win in the 18th tonight. Lamb had polls showing him up early on and on Tuesday night. The GOP does not want to lose this neck of the woods. In an effort to avoid another loss to Dems, Politico reported, a private sit-down at Camp David in January was a wake-up. “During the meeting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy delivered a sobering presentation on the election landscape in which he underscored the historic tendency for the party in power to lose seats in a president’s first midterm.”
Politico, pointing to sources, said McCarthy flat-out asked for the White House to jump in. Trump visited the district last week and in a self-congratulatory and often fact-deficient speech where that praised himself and his administration while attacking Democrats, mentioned GOP candidate and former Pennsylvania state lawmaker 66-year-old Rick Saccone once or twice and, using his penchant for bullying nicknames for people he dislikes, described the Democratic nominee as “Lamb the Sham.”
4. Will This Be a Déjà Vu Doug Jones Vs. Roy Moore Election Affair Given Their Commonality, Namely a Sex Scandal?
This special election was set off last fall when then Republican Rep. Tim Murphy left office after the family values lawmaker admitted an affair but worse for him politically, suggested the woman with whom he was carrying on have an abortion.
In September of 2017, Murphy admitted to having an affair with forensic psychologist Shannon Edwards. She was being divorced by her husband who wanted to dispose Murphy. His lawyer told the Post Gazette, “He has the right to know what went on with this marital misconduct.”
But the drama did not end there. In texts obtained by the paper between Edwards and Murphy, the Congressman, praised and supported by pro-life groups and PAC’s including Family Research Council, and LifePAC and was a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, wanted her to have an abortion. It turned out she was not pregnant but she was angered. “… you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options…”
Murphy replied, the paper reported, “I get what you say about my March for life messages. I’ve never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don’t write any more. I will.”
And the sex text abortion scandal wasn’t the only issue for Murphy. His chief of staff described a workplace where staff were terrorized by his denigration of some employees.
So Murphy was out and the door was ajar for a Democrat to try and push their way in. A door not unlike the one in Alabama.
5. In What Will Likely Be a Close Race, Polls & Pundits are Hedging Their Bets
Lamb, hoping to avoid a situation like that in the 2016 election where polls had Hillary Clinton winning easily and some said that those inaccurate numbers kept some voters home, cautions the same play may be under way in Pennsylvania.
Vice President Joe Biden, who likely has some sway with the aging white middle class voters, encouraged voters to “bring this one home, Pennsylvania.”
And steelworkers are pulling for Lamb which may be a portent for what’s to come when all the ballots are counted Tuesday night.