On Tuesday, a hotly-contested election will be held in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district. The contest pits GOP candidate Rick Saccone, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, against a much younger Democrat, Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine. President Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016, and no Democrat has run a competitive race in the district in two decades — the closest election of the last eight races was 15 points. But Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) resigned from his seat after news broke that he had impregnated his mistress and then allegedly pushed for an abortion.
Right now, Lamb is slightly favored to win the seat.
FiveThirtyEight points out just how well Democrats have done in special elections all over the country, significantly overperforming their 2016 election results: in the seven special elections that have taken place since January 2017, Democrats have averaged an increase of 16 percentage points. That’s a huge swing; if it were to hold for 2018, Republicans would certainly lose the House.
And if Lamb were to win this race, or even run even with Saccone, it wouldn’t be massively surprising to see a spate of retirements in the House. Republicans have already been bleeding from such retirements: 25 Republicans have retired or resigned, and another 12 House seats are currently open thanks to Republicans who are shifting jobs.
Trump is already pre-emptively blaming Saccone. But there’s no reason to think that any generic Republican should have lost this seat. He’s not a particularly awful candidate — he’s just lackluster. And Lamb is a solid candidate, unlike Georgia’s 6th Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.
There’s no question that Trump’s unpopularity hurts Republicans in PA-18. Off-year elections are always bad for the president’s party, but they could be particularly bad for an unpopular president’s party.
All eyes will be on Pennsylvania tonight. And it’s the margin that matters, not the victor.