After months of campaigning, the special election for the 18th Congressional District has concluded. Barring unlikely circumstances, Lamb has unofficially claimed the district’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A Democrat has not been elected in the 18th District since 2000.
Mt. Lebanon native Conor Lamb, 33, unofficially beat Republican candidate Rick Saccone, 59, by a slim margin with ballots cast in parts of Greene, Washington, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. The results were not made official until after a week, in the evening of March 21. This election, which garnered national attention, was brought about after Republican Tim Murphy stepped down from his positon in October amid allegations of an extramarital affair.
Lamb, wasn’t expected to win by much, given the district’s history voting for Republican candidates. Murphy didn’t have a Democratic challenger in any of his last two elections and had easily won the district in every election since 2002. Additionally, President Donald Trump won the district by almost 20 percentage points in the 2016 election. It has yet to be determined whether Saccone’s campaign will challenge the results.
The United Mine Workers of America supported Murphy in the past, but in this election, the organization endorsed Lamb, with UMWA President Cecil Roberts speaking in Greene County shortly before the election at a rally hosted by State Rep. Pam Snyder. At the event, Roberts cited Lamb’s plans to protect Social Security, Medicare and pensions for coal miners. According to Phil Smith, director of communications and government affairs, Lamb’s support of labor unions led to UMWA’s backing. Smith said that Lamb was on board with the legislation regarding their plan, while Saccone never gave them his opinion.
“We have a crisis with our pension plan right now,” Smith said. “It’s on the verge of [collapsing], and there’s legislation in Washington that would help our retirees keep their pensions. We asked our candidates a very simple question; are you for [the legislation] or are you against?… Mr. Lamb supported it, Mr. Saccone refused to answer.”
For Smith, Lamb’s backing of labor unions was “the reason for his victory.”
“When you win by such a close amount, and you have all the labor unions in your district supporting you, making phone calls, writing letters and having one-on-one contact with their members over and over and over again [it makes a difference].” he said. “When labor puts on a
unified and coordinated ground game, it’s pretty tough to beat, and I think that was demonstrated here in this special election.”
In Greene County, Saccone received almost 800 more votes—as verified by director of elections Tina Kiger—while also winning in Washington County by more than 3,000 votes and Westmoreland by more than 10,000. What made the difference in the voting, however, was Allegheny County—the largest in the 18th district—where Lamb edged Saccone by more than 15,000 votes. Greene County is significantly smaller than the other three, with less than 5,000 total votes.
Saccone has yet to concede the election, and is beginning an effort to run in the redrawn 14th District. There is a good chance that Republicans will contest the results, and if so, it could be weeks before the results are finalized.
Kiger said the voting went well, with the only hitch being some confusion on the fact that not all of Greene County is located in the 18th district.
“[The voting] went pretty smoothly,” Kiger said “We just had a few collaboration issues here and there… Our main thing was people calling because they went to vote and couldn’t, and they just wanted to know why they couldn’t. Normally everybody in the county is voting, and for the 18th congressional district, it was only the western half of the county.”
Smith said that the UMWA plans to stay behind Lamb in the upcoming November elections.
“I would imagine that we would [still support Lamb],” he said. “Although that’s in November and this is March, so there’s a lot of time between now and then… but Mr. Lamb has already demonstrated himself to be a friend of our union and a friend of our retirees, and I don’t know why that would change.”