Until very recently, Bob Rogers, a retired coal miner in his seventies, thought his party was dead. Rogers, who flew Chinook helicopters in Vietnam before spending 43 years in the mines of western Pennsylvania, is a lifelong Democrat, but for a while now has worried that people like him had been forgotten by the party.
“They were strong union supporters and they’ve just dropped the ball in that respect,” he says.
But he was reinvigorated by Conor Lamb, a 33-year-old lawyer and former Marine from Pittsburgh who as of late Tuesday night was ahead in a special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district.
Hours after polls closed, his lead was precariously narrow — just 847 votes more than Republican state representative Rick Saccone — but even a slim victory would have major implications: Donald Trump won this district by double digits in 2016.
Saccone, a social conservative who once bragged that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” was the beneficiary of a desperate multimillion dollar campaign staged by national Republicans, and yet Lamb managed to flip good portions of the district. The success gives hope to Democrats and intensifies concerns among Republicans about the November midterms.
By the standards of the party today, Lamb is an unorthodox Democrat. He devoted his campaign to connecting with blue-collar workers in southwestern Pennsylvania and their unions, largely steering clear of the Trump-era flashpoints — Russiagate, White House staff turnover — that have consumed the national conversation. He has spoken out against stricter gun control, was reticent on the subject of abortion and, most notably, has said that when he gets to Washington, he won’t back Nancy Pelosi as the party’s leader in the House of Representatives.
But this was precisely the chord he needed to hit in this southwestern Pennsylvania district, which Trump won with nearly 60% of the vote but where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly two to one. “It’s labor,” Rogers, the former miner, says simply when asked what matters to voters here. Workers like Rogers are old enough to remember the heyday of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, which built the infrastructure for contemporary social welfare in the U.S. They tend to resent the party’s embrace of economically centrist realpolitik over the last quarter-century. To them, Lamb was a breath of fresh air.
“It’s time for a change,” one elderly woman, who politely declined to give her name, said as she left the polls in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday. She voted for Lamb. “The old Democratic machine has been in power a little bit too long. All the insults and stuff that go on — we have no statesmen anymore. No one’s thinking about the constituents who put them in charge. It’s all about their salaries and their continued employment. When you lose a job, you lose a job!”
Because of how emphatically the region supported Trump in 2016, this special election took on outsized importance nationally. It was, many pundits said, a litmus test of Trumpism: that nebulous term that connotes a populism …read more
Source:: Time – Politics