• PA-18: A Not-So Special Election

    Written By: Arnaud Armstrong | @Arnaud996

    It’s been a very busy week for our friends in the mainstream media.

    Taking a short respite from their daily shrieking about President Trump’s faux-pas du jour, those in the business of delivering comically skewed distortions of current events so as best to bolster the image of the Democratic Party and diminish that of the GOP (sometimes referred to as “journalism”), gleefully jumped at the opportunity to cover a “surprisingly” competitive special election for a congressional seat that, thanks to the regal dictate of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, no longer exists.

    The election was hard fought, and in the end, the Democrat, Conor Lamb, very narrowly beat the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone. The victory has no significant consequences, however. Unlike Scott Brown’s Massachusetts Senate win in January 2010, one of the very few special elections I can think of that have garnered such an intense degree of media attention, this changes virtually nothing about the legislative dynamics of Congress, with the GOP still holding a very large majority in the House.

    This, however, didn’t stop the media from breathlessly offering a litany of uniformly identical opinions on the results, explaining that the race represented a cataclysmic disaster for the GOP, and that the lesson of the race is that the Party should dramatically change (presumably to become far more like the Democrats) if it wants to cling to any hope of retaining control of the House.

    There are, of course, a handful of modest corrections which ought to be pointed out to those advancing the conventional wisdom this past week, namely that the entire story is a ludicrous farce.

    Let’s start with the most common talking point; this was a district that went for President Trump by 20 points. This is a factoid that’s been repeated ad nauseam, but that stubbornly ignores some far more prevalent statistics, namely the fact that every single county in the district had a Democratic registration advantage. To repeat, there were significantly more Democrats in the district than Republicans, including in the counties that went for the Republican. Much to no one’s surprise, however, those in the media preferred headlines more like “Republican humiliated in district Trump won” than “Republican impressively outperforms in majority Democrat district.”

    But surely I’m just being paranoid; it’s not as though those in the business of crafting headlines would ever exhibit a blatant partisan bias. After all, we can at least expect that if a titanic anti-Republican wave is forming in Pennsylvania, a significant shift in party registration would be seen. For example, between 2004 and 2008, a period when PA Republicans were dealt a series of serious blows, Democrats increased their registration advantage by four percent, equivalent to hundreds of thousands of votes. To illustrate the similar GOP collapse in 2018 we can just compare registration data released last week to the data from late 2016. Doing so, we can see that Democrats have dramatically increased their numbers by… oh, my mistake, they’ve lost 200,000 voters.

    At the very least, though, Democrats can surely argue that this election was a referendum on the performance of President Trump, given that he won a majority in this district in 2016. As such, this race served the Democrats splendidly, illustrating that they can sweep Pennsylvania races simply by making an issue out of the President. But a cursory review of the pre-election polls for the district tell a different story. Had journalists taken a moment to peruse the polls rather than simply pointing to those polls which had Conor Lamb ahead and declaring that it spelled doom for the President, they might have noticed that the polls showed Trump with positive approval ratings in the district.

    I’ll let the good folks at Emerson elaborate: “Trump currently has a 47% job approval in the district with 43% disapproving, despite 46% of the district being registered Democrat. Similarly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi only has a 20% approval rate, with 57% disapproving.” A separate poll by Gravis was even better for the President, with 49% approving and 42% disapproving.

    Now, surely, if this was a referendum on the performance of the President, wouldn’t one expect that Rick Saccone would have won by a fairly comfortable margin?

    Of course. But the media, with rare exception, has conveniently glossed over these obvious facts. At the end of the day, the Republican lost not because of any obvious wave, but because of the skill of his opponent and his own political deficiencies. I’m more than happy to give credit where credit is due: Conor Lamb is young and attractive, campaigned as a distinguished veteran and centrist reformer, displayed far more charisma than his opponent, attracted strong union support in a union-heavy district, and staked out conservative opinions on guns and energy, even declaring his belief that life that life begins at conception (which is pretty egregious considering that he also came out against a 20-week abortion ban, but I digress).

    The bottom line is this: Any freshman college student who’s taken a class on American politics, regardless of whether they had an opinion on the President or the GOP, could have guessed that the more moderate, charismatic candidate who belongs to the region’s majority party would win the election. Absolutely nothing about this election is surprising or even noteworthy, nevermind deserving of thorough nationwide coverage or the kind of outlandish extrapolation we’ve witnessed from increasingly unhinged Democrat columnists.

    In fact, the closeness of this race serves just as well as a warning to the Democrats as to the Republicans. Conor Lamb is a genuine centrist in a party that finds itself increasingly driven to the left by Bernie Sanders/Liz Warren wing. Come the primaries, Conor Lamb’s ideological position within his Party’s set of candidates will be the exception, not the rule. In that, Republicans can take comfort.