Today, there is a special election for the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania that’s probably been accorded far more national importance than it should. Donald Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016, but incumbent Republican Rick Saccone is struggling in the polls against Democrat Conor Lamb.
Both sides view this race as a harbinger of the November elections, where if Lamb wins, it will predict a “blue wave” of energized voters swamping the polls and voting Democrats back into power. I still haven’t heard any explanation for why Americans would want to do that. So they can raise our taxes, abolish immigration enforcement, get weak on ISIS again and slow economic growth back down to 1%? Good times!
No, instead it’s more of a test of how effective it is for a politicized mass media to rile up people’s emotions by blaring negative stories about Trump 24/7, from “The View” in the morning to Colbert as they drift off to sleep.
In truth, special elections are one of the worst indicators of the way general elections will go (they’re even less reliable than polls, if you can imagine that!) Special elections are held at off-times and usually get little publicity and low turnout, generally among only the most politically involved voters, which means the more extreme elements are amplified. When you have a well-publicized, regular national or statewide race, the large turnout tends to negate the effect of higher enthusiasm among the hardcore fringes (for instance, in last week’s Texas Primaries, Democratic turnout was unusually high – but it was still 50% lower than Republican turnout.)
Special elections in House districts also often hinge on local issues (in Pennsylvania, that includes steel and coal industry concerns) and have little to do with broad national trends. Yet both parties have poured millions into the race in Pennsylvania, with President Trump personally hosting a rally for Saccone. Each side will see a win as vindication that Americans endorse their larger political visions.
But Lamb isn’t running as a Democrat so much as he’s running from the Democrats. He’s a Marine veteran and former prosecutor who calls himself an Independent Democrat, opposes major new gun control laws, endorses Trump’s steel tariffs (he has steel and mining union backing), doesn’t badmouth Trump, and vows not to support Nancy Pelosi’s reelection as Speaker. Does that sound like a vote for him is an endorsement of the DNC platform?
So if you’re a Republican, why bother to turn out to vote for Saccone? Because aside from his conservative bona fides, it’s vital to keep Congress out of the hands of the national Democratic leadership, which has made it abundantly clear that they don’t care what a bunch of dumb, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic steel workers and coal miners in flyover country think. They see that seat as just one more stepping stone to amassing enough power to stop Trump's agenda and force more “progressivism” down our throats.
History lesson: Remember former Sen. Phil Gramm, one of the biggest names in the GOP? Did you know that in his first House race in Texas, he was elected as a Democrat? Strange but true! But he quickly discovered that when all those independent-minded freshmen Democrats get to DC, they are ordered to forget what they promised their constituents: they’ll toe the party line or they won’t get plum committee assignments and will have no power. Gramm refused, and shortly after being reelected, was kicked off the House Budget Committee, despite being an economics professor. So he resigned, switched parties, and his constituents reelected him as the first Republican to hold that seat since 1846. You know there’s something wrong with the system when you can’t even expect conservative representation when you elect Phil Gramm, just because there’s a “D” by his name on the ballot.
It’s ironic, but the very liberals who are touting today’s race as a harbinger of the “blue wave” just might have killed their chances of winning by focusing so much money and attention on it that they’ve made it more like a well-publicized general election race. Now, Republicans are very aware of it and should realize the importance of turning out in big numbers to keep that seat. As a Republican, I certainly hope so. But if the GOP loses the seat, it won’t be because Americans are yearning for more leftism. It will be because the Democrat distanced himself from his own party and too many Republicans didn’t bother to show up and fight for it.
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