Why Conor Lamb Won
At this time yesterday, all we could tell you is that Democrat Connor Lamb had “probably” won a special election in Western Pennsylvania that reduces the Republican majority in the House by 1. Now we can tell you for sure.
Even though a few absentee and overseas votes still haven’t been counted, even if they all come in for Republican Rick Saccone, according to the New York Times, it won’t be enough to make up the gap.
Lamb’s margin of victory: just a little more than 600 votes out of about 230,000 total, still small enough that Republicans will almost certainly fight it. According to Politico, they plan to challenge on 3 things: Republican party attorneys were not permitted to watch the tabulation of absentee ballots, changes to the Secretary of State’s website confused voters about polling locations, and some touchscreen voting machines might’ve been “mis-calibrated”, so they recorded votes for the wrong candidate. (The fact that the district is almost 100% white limits Republicans’ ability to use their more “typical” arguments: that “illegals voted”, etc.)
Lots of people are batting around lots of ideas about why Lamb, a former marine and Federal Prosecutor prevailed, with all kinds of spin going every which way.
We think there are 3 major factors:
• Enthusiasm! One thing President Trump deserves complete credit for: Americans are more interested in politics than they’ve been in a couple of generations. That higher level of engagement is leading to a higher voter turnout, according to fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver. And we believe there’s a 2nd trend in play: there’s less interest in party and more interest in who is actually running and what their message is. The Republican in this race tried to skate by with no message other than “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.” Trump alone is Trump.
• People Are More Concerned About Health Care And Social Security Than They Are Happy About Tax Cuts And Steel Tariffs (Even In “Steel Country”): And they’re right! We think this is going to be the biggest takeaway for Democratic leadership from this race: that they can run robust campaigns built around focusing on social safety net issues and how Trump policies imperil them. Lamb emphasized strong support of health care programs and Social Security in person and in his TV ads. Here’s one:
• Lamb Flipped The Script On Nancy Pelosi: Several decades ago, Republican pollster Frank Luntz found groups of voters he talked to instinctively reacted negatively to the California Representative, long before she became Speaker of the House during Obama’s first term. He strongly urged Republican candidates to “run against Pelosi” and coastal Liberalism regardless of who they were actually running against. Turned out this strategy really worked, and it especially worked well when the Democratic candidate wasn’t well known to the public beforehand, which was certainly the case with Lamb. So why didn’t it work this time? Especially with as much as $12-million in Conservative dark money pouring in to finance ads taking this exact approach? Because Lamb swerved, and made it known very early on that he doesn’t support Pelosi either. Rendering the Republican line of attack ineffective, with millions wasted on ads like these:
Senate Majority Leader Paul Ryan says Lamb won because he “ran as a Conservative”.
We say: Conservatives are going to have to find a new way to run.