In the closely-watched special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, 2006 College graduate Conor Lamb is running for the vacant seat against Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone.
And on Jan. 18, Donald Trump came to Pittsburgh to pledge his “total support” for Saccone. Trump's tweet read:
Lamb graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006 with a degree in Political Science and graduated from Penn Law three years later. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and was appointed in 2014 as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
The election pits the first-time politician Lamb against state Rep. Saccone, who has served in the state congress since 2010. The new congressional representative will serve the 18th District, which is located in the southwestern portion of Pennsylvania and encompasses areas south of Pittsburgh.
Before October 2017, former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy held the seat since 2003, yet was forced to resign amid reports that he forced a woman he had an affair with to have an abortion. Murphy was a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus.
According to Political Science professor Matthew Levendusky, the district is “about as Republican as Montana.” Yet in the circumstances surrounding the vacancy, shifts in national public opinion, and the quality of the candidates have all made the race more competitive, Levendusky added.
“Lamb is a Marine from a local political family, and he’s emphasized positions where he’s more centrist than national Democrats,” Levendusky said. “This makes him potentially a good fit for the district, but he still faces an uphill battle, given the partisan composition of the district.”
For Penn Democrats President and Wharton sophomore Dylan Milligan, the qualities of Penn alumnus Lamb, combined with the scandal that engulfed the past candidate, gives Democrats a chance of taking control of the seat, which has been in GOP hands since 2003.
“This is a place where the Republicans have shown that they are hypocrites and that I don’t think they’re fielding a very strong candidate,” Milligan said. “The people there are upset with the way Trump has performed so far in office and that’s why the Democrat is polling quite well, and Trump is scared so he has to go there and hold a rally.”
Penn Dems have already held a phone bank to encourage voters in the 18th District to support Lamb, and plan to hold two additional phone banks before the election in mid-March, Milligan said.
Co-director of College Republicans Editorial Board and College and Wharton sophomore Michael Moroz said the club currently had no plans to hold phone banks for the race. Nonetheless, Moroz applauded Saccone’s strong Republican credentials.
“I can see why Trump endorsed him; he’s conservative on basically every issue — from gun rights to right-to-work legislation,” Moroz said.
Recent polls have given Saccone between a three and 12 point lead in the race, and Levendusky said that a Lamb win would be an upset, but not one that should carry too much significance.
“Political scientists always urge caution when interpreting a single election, but prognosticators will attach a lot importance to this outcome,” Levendusky said. “Especially if Lamb pulls an upset and beats Saccone.”