On March 21, 2018, Conor Lamb received an official concession from his Republican challenger in Pennsylvania’s high-profile special election for the state’s 18th Congressional District. The area voted for Donald Trump by more than 20 percentage points in 2016, but Lamb squeaked out a victory by 627 votes.
Exactly one year after his upset victory, the 2006 College and 2009 Penn Law graduate returned to his alma mater to pitch his pragmatic vision for the Democratic party amid its recent leftward shift.
At a Thursday discussion hosted by Penn Democrats, the recently re-elected Congressman indicated his support for former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race, expressed his skepticism of the Green New Deal, and revealed his view on how to appeal to working class voters.
Lamb said while Biden is his initial favorite to win his endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, any Democrat seeking Lamb's support needs to have priorities similar to his constituents.
“There are some who just clearly get it in terms of union rights, jobs, concerns of elderly people,” Lamb said. “I’ll be listening.”
The congressman also took a skeptical view of progressive ideas gaining popularity among some in the Democratic party. While he said he was “fine” with the concept of the Green New Deal, he noted how its sponsors — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) — were representing liberal constituencies, and that people in his district have been skeptical.
“Where I come from, people are a little more practical and pragmatic. They want to know how things like this are going to affect our jobs and how is this going to affect our energy bills,” Lamb said. “It doesn’t really address any of those things.”
Lamb added that while he might agree with some of the policy proposals of his more progressive candidates, he encouraged them to change their messaging and wording when announcing their policies.
“You might have a lot of things in there that are good for the average working person in Pittsburgh, but maybe it’s lost in translation,” Lamb said.
Lamb identified the economic problems facing his district, the Rust Belt at large, and other regions throughout the country. He noted that problems affecting western Pennsylvania, such as outsourcing and a declining steel industry, have been systemic struggles for the region.
“These things were all happening long before President Trump ever came along,” Lamb said. “We’re dealing with 50-year problems.”
Lamb emerged as one of the Democratic stars of Trump's first year in office, as his election in a strongly Republican district marked the second high-profile victory of the period for Democrats in what is traditionally GOP territory. Doug Jones (D-Ga.) defeated Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate election in December 2017, surprising the conservative state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.
After Pennsylvania changed its congressional districts in 2018, Lamb ran again in November 2018 and won in the newly formed 17th Congressional District.
To win back the White House in 2020, Lamb said Democrats “can’t let what happened in 2016 happen again,” emphasizing the need to regain support in western Pennsylvania.
Penn Presidential Professor of Practice and Scranton, Pa.-born Biden, Lamb said, "starts out as an obvious leader in that group [of 2020 candidates] for me based on his connections to Pennsylvania.”