The results from PA-18 are still unknown.
Absentee ballots in the Pennsylvania 18th congressional district won’t be counted until tomorrow morning, and the two candidates, Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, are running in a dead heat, separated by less than 100 votes as of this writing.
That’s bad news for Republicans.
It’s bad news for Republicans because this district went to President Trump over Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points. The district hasn’t been competitive for two decades. And no matter who ends up with the seat, the race is neck-and-neck. Here are the takeaways:
1. Democrats Have A MAJOR Enthusiasm Advantage. President Trump visited the district. Republicans poured money into the district. It didn’t seem to help very much. In the seven special elections in 2017, Democrats gained on their 2016 and 2012 results, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, by an average of 16%. Just one of those seats ended up shifting to Democrats thanks to the heavy Republican constituency of the seats in the first place, just as Saccone may end up winning after all in PA-18. But there are 118 seats held by Republicans that Trump won by fewer than 20 points — and Democrats need to pick up just 24 of them.
2. Trump’s Popularity Matters. Republicans should be expected to lose seats in the first off-year election of a Republican president. But they should be expected to do better than average when the economy is booming and we’re not suffering any serious foreign policy crisis. That’s not happening. In fact, Republicans are wildly underperforming across the country — as of February, Democrats had flipped 35 state legislature seats, including a blue wave in Virginia. Presidents with low approval ratings drag their parties with them in off-year elections. Trump isn’t coming close to cracking 50%.
3. Democrats Are Running Better Candidates. Democrats poured money into Jon Ossoff in the Georgia 6th, and they lost. That’s because Ossoff was a Nancy Pelosi-lite candidate. Lamb isn’t. As many Republican commentators have pointed out, Lamb ran as a soft Republican, not a gun control fanatic with a pro-abortion radical streak. Republicans say this means that their agenda is still popular. What it really means is that if Democrats tailor candidates to their districts as opposed to running on an intersectionality-first platform, they could clock Republicans.
It’s still early. A lot can change between March and November. But the data support the serious possibility of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) come Election Day 2018.