Raymond Arke | News Editor
Calling it a close race does not quite do it justice. Duquesne and Pizza Milano are close. The walk from Gumberg to Starbucks is close. This was something more. The March 13 special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District was more than just tight; it came down to a couple hundred ballots.
With no official winner declared by the Associated Press as of press time, Conor Lamb (D-Mt. Lebanon), a former federal prosecutor and Marine, declared victory at 1 a.m. on March 14 over Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), a Pennsylvania state house representative for the 39th District. With all the votes counted and reported, Lamb holds a 627 vote lead. The New York Times and NBC News called the race in Lamb’s favor on the evening of March 14.
The 18th District consists of a combination of Allegheny County Pittsburgh suburbs like Moon Township, Mount Lebanon and Bethel Park, along with parts of Washington, Westmoreland and Greene Counties. The district may not exist by November 2018, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the old congressional map and drew new districts.
Since the resignation of former Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) in October triggered the special election, the area has seen intense national attention. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Youngstown) from neighboring Ohio both came out to campaign for Lamb. Saccone saw the visits of President Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Mike Pence and White House aide Kellyanne Conway.
The district was seen as a Republican stronghold. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won the 18th by 20 points over Hillary Clinton.
Before his resignation, Murphy had won his past three elections, dating back to 2012, handily, with no Democrats running against him in 2014 or 2016, according to Ballotpedia.
With the 18th District being so close to Duquesne’s campus, many Duquesne students voted in the election or participated in the campaign.
Connor Evans, a senior biomedical engineering major, made sure to vote yesterday and cast his ballot for Lamb.
“I voted for Conor Lamb primarily because of his general stance as a socially conservative Democrat,” he said.
Evans particularly liked Lamb’s background as a federal prosecutor and that Lamb is relatively young. He is only 33.
“I believe that we need fresh, young leadership in the Democratic Party, and Conor Lamb is the right guy to represent the people of the area,” he said.
Evans also pointed out that his name, Connor James Evans, is very close to Conor James Lamb, something he said “isn’t bad either.”
Gabriella DeStefano, senior political science and international relations major, is not from the district, but worked as a canvasser in support of Lamb throughout February. Canvassing meant showing up every Saturday and Sunday morning at 9 a.m. in an office in Carnegie.
“[Canvassers] would each be handed a packet outlining our ‘turf,’ or area of the 18th District, we would be in for the day,” she said.
Then, DeStefano said, they would be driven out to their “turf” and have around 100 home addresses of registered voters they were responsible for visiting.
“Individually, we would go to the address, knock on the door and try to convince whoever answered that Conor Lamb was the congressman for them,” she said.
She talked to a variety of people, from enthusiastic Lamb supporters to people who slammed the door in her face.
“I talked to one couple who couldn’t decide for whom to vote … and looking at the extremely narrow number of votes Conor Lamb won by, I think they cast two of those,” DeStefano said.
She called the experience of canvassing as “exhilarating,” and said that since she loves politics, “there is nothing more exciting than getting other people to feel that love and excitement too.”
Michael DaPos, a junior political science major with a pre-law concentration and an English minor and is active in Westmoreland County Republican politics, was disappointed by Saccone’s loss.
“Last night’s result was a disappointment for Pennsylvania Republicans and, likewise, Republicans across the country looking to build on the success of President Trump’s first year in office,” he said.
DaPos said he was proud of how Saccone ran the race.
“He is a genuinely good man, which can sometimes be hard to find in politics … Rick worked hard and had an army of troops on the ground, loyal to a fault, right alongside him,” he said. “It was an honor to stand with and work for him in this pursuit.”
DaPos warned fellow Republicans not to lose momentum in future elections.
“I would caution my party not to fall victim to what I like to call the ‘Obama Problem,’ which is basically the potential for midterm and off-year complacency due to President Trump’s not being on the ballot,” he said. “Now’s the time to buck up, recognize and admit our mistakes and make sure we take the steps necessary to ensure we don’t make them again.”
Dave Weigel, a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, had been in-and-out of the district five times since November when Lamb was picked. Weigel said that it’s no surprise the Democrats have claimed the win, calling the move “strategic.”
“It’s a kind of result that makes sense that Democrats are declaring victory. It’s a kind of victory that usually isn’t overturned,” he said. But he did not rule out a recount, something that many Republicans are considering asking for.
Weigel said that the special election was less about President Trump and more issue-oriented.
“The race was ran on labor and worker issues … There is a hardcore group of people who did not vote for Trump determined to vote in every election against Republicans,” he said.
He also explained that attempts by Saccone and the Republican Party to tie Lamb to far-left ideas and Nancy Pelosi “didn’t work because he just ran on economics.”
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a respected weekly online newsletter based out of the University of Virginia, painted a pessimistic picture for Republicans.
“This was a terrible result for the Republicans and it is indicative of larger problems for Republicans as they try and hold the House,” he said.
Also warning Republicans about the fall was Clifford Bob, the chair of Duquesne’s political science department.
“I see the outcome as a clear rebuke for Donald Trump from Democratic voters — and a warning that Republican moderates may no longer be motivated to come to the polls for the President, as some of them did in 2016,” he said.
Bob and Kondik both said that the special election victory fits the typical result of midterm and off-year elections going poorly for any president’s party.
According to The New York Times, Republicans plan on filing legislation to force a recount.