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Panelist: Race was determined before Trump

Political commentator Jason Miller says that Rick Saccone waited too long to become a "Trump Republican" during his campaign for Pennsylvania's special election, potentially costing him independent and conservative voters.

Posted: Mar 15, 2018 4:59 AM
Updated: Mar 15, 2018 4:59 AM

Democrat Conor Lamb appeared to eke out a massive -- and massively important -- special election victory over state Republican Rep. Rick Saccone to claim a southwestern Pennsylvania congressional district that Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

Lamb's apparent win -- no matter how narrow -- will surely rock the national political landscape. Republicans, already jittery about their chances of holding the House in November, will be thrown into panic by this result. And Democrats, already energized by the prospect of sending a message to President Trump, will be further convinced that November is going to be very, very good for them.

Here are seven takeaways from Tuesday's vote in Pennsylvania:

1. The national environment is WAY tilted toward Democrats

This district is nothing close to neutral ground for the two parties. This is a seat Republicans win in anything but a truly terrible national environment. (Remember that Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned amid a sex scandal late last year, didn't even have a Democratic challenger in 2014 or 2016.) There are dozens of seats currently held by Republicans that are less friendly for their side than Pennsylvania's 18th. If all of those seats are made competitive by Trump's unpopularity -- and the energy of the Democratic base -- then we are looking at the possibility at least of a very large Democratic wave building in advance of the November vote.

2. Donald Trump can't save you

Saccone brought Trump in on the final weekend of the race in hopes of shocking the GOP base into action. But like Trump's last-minute event for Roy Moore's Alabama campaign, the President simply didn't move enough (any?) votes. What the Pennsylvania and Alabama results suggest is that while Trump clearly has a strong coalition who will vote for him -- see: 2016 election -- he has not demonstrated the ability to transfer those votes to Republican candidates.

3. Money can't save you

Yes, Saccone was a lousy fundraiser. And, yes, Lamb was a very good one. But conservative outside groups and Republican Party committees dumped massive amounts of money -- more than $10 million -- into this district to try to save Saccone. That's five times as much as Democrats spent for Lamb. It didn't matter. Money can help boost morale and excitement. But it can't create it from whole cloth. And Democrats have that excitement organically right now. Republicans don't.

4. The same old GOP playbook can't save you

Republican ad-makers had two messages in this race: The positive message was selling the Trump tax cut. The negative one was attacking Lamb as a tool of national Democrats, especially House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. It didn't work. And that's important, because Pelosi had been such an effective bogeyman for congressional Republicans for so long. That voters in southwestern Pennsylvania weren't swayed by the idea that Lamb was a vote for Pelosi (even though he had made clear he wouldn't vote for her as leader) suggests that Republicans need to find a new way to peel wavering voters off Democrats running for Congress this fall.

5. GOP retirement watch

The possibility of another slew of Republican retirements -- in addition to the 38 already heading for the exits -- is now very real. Not every retirement is created equal, but if suburban Republicans -- especially in Pennsylvania and New York -- decide to call it quits in the face of a strong wind blowing in their faces, the chances for Democrats to win the 24 seats they need to retake the majority goes up, up, up.

6. Democrats are going to raise a massive amount of money this week

Winning this sort of seat at this sort of moment will convince every major Democratic donor who has been sitting on the sidelines that now is the time to get involved. And a victory like this one by Lamb will also energize the liberal, small-dollar-donating grass roots of the party. The more money Democrats can raise, the more districts they can put real voter ID and turnout operations into and the more districts they will then have a chance to pick up in a wave.

7. Candidates matter. Campaigns matter. But ..:

There's no question that Lamb was a very good fit for the district -- a conservative Democrat with strong union roots and a family name people knew. And Saccone -- a state representative in his 60s -- was the exact wrong choice for Republicans. Lamb raised a ton of money. Saccone didn't. That matters. But Lamb running a well-funded and good race alone doesn't account for a 20-plus point shift from Trump in 2016 to Saccone in 2018. In a neutral environment, Lamb loses this race -- no matter how good a campaign he runs. That he won shows you how much impact the national political environment is having on these races.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 454989

Reported Deaths: 6163
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin943781502
Ramsey40624748
Dakota33540354
Anoka31357368
Washington20533237
Stearns18091190
St. Louis13970250
Scott1217799
Wright11791107
Olmsted1078075
Sherburne829669
Carver704439
Clay658884
Rice624274
Kandiyohi558072
Blue Earth548033
Crow Wing490478
Otter Tail464268
Chisago459538
Benton423688
Winona394548
Douglas379366
Nobles374647
Mower373729
Goodhue356863
Polk330760
McLeod328147
Beltrami315748
Morrison314545
Lyon305539
Becker288939
Itasca287343
Isanti285643
Carlton284043
Steele278910
Pine270315
Freeborn254123
Todd233730
Nicollet229438
Brown218034
Mille Lacs215645
Le Sueur214216
Cass210724
Meeker201333
Waseca193216
Wabasha17463
Martin171926
Roseau166417
Hubbard150738
Redwood141127
Houston140014
Dodge13934
Renville138440
Chippewa133032
Cottonwood129018
Fillmore12698
Wadena120818
Rock112012
Aitkin111433
Sibley10997
Faribault109416
Watonwan10688
Pennington101016
Kanabec99618
Pipestone96823
Yellow Medicine94916
Murray9117
Jackson87310
Swift84518
Pope7475
Stevens7078
Marshall70315
Clearwater68814
Lake66315
Lac qui Parle66116
Wilkin6339
Koochiching60610
Lincoln4912
Unassigned47369
Big Stone4693
Grant4388
Norman4258
Mahnomen4167
Kittson37420
Red Lake3204
Traverse2613
Lake of the Woods1961
Cook1160

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 311430

Reported Deaths: 4433
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46841465
Linn18065279
Scott15872172
Black Hawk14090243
Woodbury13129181
Johnson1230052
Dubuque11625159
Pottawattamie9166115
Dallas908972
Story881038
Cerro Gordo473572
Webster472477
Sioux459757
Warren459339
Clinton458168
Marshall431162
Buena Vista396330
Muscatine396178
Des Moines395143
Plymouth353270
Wapello350798
Jasper332859
Lee324632
Marion309353
Jones274950
Henry267131
Carroll258434
Bremer250148
Crawford234724
Boone222917
Washington222933
Benton213650
Mahaska197937
Jackson195032
Tama190259
Dickinson188829
Kossuth180644
Delaware176236
Clay172521
Wright167124
Fayette166024
Hamilton162330
Buchanan162224
Winneshiek160820
Harrison158562
Hardin157931
Cedar155619
Clayton153849
Butler151724
Page147115
Floyd141636
Cherokee140127
Mills138517
Lyon137533
Poweshiek135224
Hancock131924
Allamakee130930
Iowa127722
Madison123910
Calhoun12349
Grundy122628
Winnebago122229
Jefferson122125
Mitchell116837
Louisa116230
Cass115243
Chickasaw113712
Appanoose112640
Sac112215
Union111623
Emmet111332
Humboldt106819
Shelby105527
Guthrie104424
Franklin103618
Unassigned10160
Palo Alto92411
Montgomery89124
Keokuk86326
Howard85919
Monroe82220
Clarke8129
Pocahontas78211
Ida76030
Davis70321
Greene6977
Adair69620
Monona68518
Lucas66710
Osceola64711
Worth6194
Taylor5999
Fremont5246
Van Buren50215
Decatur4974
Ringgold45111
Audubon4228
Wayne42021
Adams3003
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