Metro Weekly

LGBTQ-endorsed Democrat Conor Lamb wins special election for Congress

Political observers believe Democrat's performance in a district Trump won by 20 points augurs well for November's midterms

Conor Lamb – Photo: Facebook.

Democrats have declared victory in a special congressional election in Southwest Pennsylvania, with their party’s candidate eeking out a win by hundreds of votes in a district that President Trump won by nearly 20 points in 2016.

The apparent victory of political novice and former Marine Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, a traditionally blue-collar district covering the southern suburbs and outer exurbs of Pittsburgh, sent shockwaves through Washington. The race left both of the country’s major political parties scrambling to interpret whether the race would serve as a bellwether for this year’s upcoming midterm elections.

Lamb declared victory in the early morning hours, even as most news outlets declined to call the race. Lamb currently leads Republican Rick Saccone by 641 votes, with an estimated 1,400 absentee ballots outstanding. However, Lamb’s campaign felt comfortable declaring victory in the race, as Saccone would have to win absentee ballots in two remaining counties by a 70-30 margin despite only winning the those counties by a 56-44 spread on Tuesday night.

In any case, Lamb’s victory in a district that shouldn’t even have been competitive has some Republicans worried about a voter backlash against President Donald Trump in November’s midterm elections that could result in Democrats taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to CNN, there are currently 119 districts held by Republicans that are less Republican-leaning than Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. Also concerning for the GOP was that both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had stumped for Saccone in the weeks and days leading up to the election.

For the LGBTQ community, which has been reeling from some of the Trump administration’s more blatant anti-LGBTQ actions, Lamb’s victory assures them an ally in Congress, at least through November. Lamb sought the endorsement of, and was eventually endorsed by, the Stonewall Steel City Democrats, an LGBTQ political organization, in his bid for Congress, though there was some confusion as to which district he was endorsed in. 

Due to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision striking down the state’s congressional districts as an illegal overly partisan gerrymander ahead of the 2018 election, candidates for Congress will be running under new district lines in November. That means that the part of the current 18th District where Lamb lives will become part of the new 17th District, which is technically the office for which Lamb earned the LGBTQ group’s endorsement ahead of November.

A spokesman for the group later confirmed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they had implicitly endorsed Lamb in his current bid, but had not wanted to confuse their members by listing the old district numbers. The group is expected to endorse U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a longtime ally, in the newly-renumbered 18th District, which is centered in the city of Pittsburgh, for November’s election.

“I believe that all Americans deserve full and equal rights and protections under the law, and I am committed to making that the reality in America,” Lamb wrote in his responses to Stonewall’s questionnaire. “…I served in the Marines at the same time the military got rid of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I saw firsthand that when men and women I served with had the freedom to be who they are and be fully equal, it made us all stronger.

“I believe that when everyone in America has the freedom to be who they are and have full and equal rights under the law, our communities and our country will be stronger,” Lamb added. “I will make that case to anyone, and I think that’s one of the ways we can keep changing minds and making real progress toward full equality.”

In contrast, Saccone, a state representative who represents the area in Harrisburg, has a record of opposing LGBTQ rights and a history of statements where he has cast Christians in America as being under attack from secular forces. He has also been closely tied to, and appeared at campaign rallies with, a radical right-wing pastor who once said the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was a sign that God had “removed his hand of protection” from Americans because of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com