After all the hoopla, the special election for Pennsylvania's 18th District House seat ended with neither side able to declare full victory (Democrat Conor Lamb tried early on, but then, as Hillary Clinton taught us, not actually winning is no impediment to Democrats declaring themselves the winner). As of this writing, it looks as if Lamb has beaten Republican Rick Saccone by a razor-thin margin of about 600 votes, but state law will require a recount. So settle in and wait.
The Democrats and the media (pardon my redundancy) will paint this as a sure sign of the coming “blue wave” in which Americans, fed up with lower taxes, a booming economy, defeating ISIS and the return of the rule of law, will rush to the polls to put Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer back in charge of Congress. It doesn’t mean that at all. However, it is a warning sign for Republicans that if they don’t want to lose everything they’ve gained, the leadership had better turn out the vote and their voters had better turn out.
Otherwise, this election is about as unique and as far from being indicative of national trends as it’s possible to be, short of the Roy Moore debacle in Alabama. On the Republican side, in what was considered a safe GOP seat, you had a decent but uninspiring candidate trying to hold on to a seat that opened up when the previous socially conservative office holder resigned after being exposed for pressing his girlfriend to get an abortion. On the Democratic side, you had an ex-Marine and prosecutor running on promises to oppose gun control, support Trump’s steel tariffs and not vote for Pelosi for Speaker. Basically, you had an establishment Republican running against a conservative Democrat or DINO (that’s short for “Democrat In Name Only,” not dinosaur, although both are considered extinct species.) Lamb’s appeal in a Republican district isn’t likely to be repeated by any other candidate because he was chosen by the party. Other Democratic candidates will have to win their Democratic primaries, where a candidate like Lamb would fare about as well as a meatball in a dog pound.
As if all that doesn’t make this race largely irrelevant to national issues (despite the millions of dollars and thousands of hour of airtime lavished on it), try this: Lamb will serve out a term that ends in nine months, during which time the GOP will still control the House. In a couple of months, there will be a primary, then a general election race to fill the seat. Because of redistricting changing the boundary lines, Lamb can’t run in the 18th again and will have to win the new 17th District Primary and beat a different Republican incumbent. So all of this hot media gas has been expended over a brief place-holder term.
In the meantime, there are some lessons to be gleaned from this overhyped race. But since the people who need to learn them likely won’t, and pixels are cheap, I’ll explain them to you.
For the Democrats: This isn’t a vindication of Obama-style progressivism. Lamb did as well as he did by distancing himself from virtually everything the Party currently stands for. Run candidates who sound like Hillary Clinton in India, and they might carry the Mumbai vote, but they won’t win in Michigan or Missouri.
For the Republicans: Democrats are charged up to vote and far exceeding their typical turnout. Find good principled candidates with no skeletons in their closets. Campaign hard and explain what’s at stake if Democrats regain power. And beef up your turnout organizations.
For Republican voters: if you’re tempted to vote for a conservative Democrat, remember that it doesn’t matter what the candidate says. Any switch of an “R” to a “D” puts Nancy Pelosi one step closer to regaining the Speakership and her magic gavel that she pounds your pocketbook with. They may say they won’t support her, but she’s proven she has the arm-twisting power to be reelected forever, as long as she has the opportunity, which requires a Democratic majority. Don’t give her the opportunity. Turn out.
For Democratic voters: Just keep picking the most anti-gun rights, pro-illegal immigration, anti-tax cut, pro-Obamacare candidates you can. You’re doing great!
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