Pennsylvania Election Tests A 'Template' For Democrats Hoping To Take The House

A dependably red swatch of southwest Pennsylvania could fall after Tuesday's vote to a 33-year-old Democrat who has never held elected office. And for Democrats, this special election comes down to how to put the entire U.S. House of Representatives in play.

If fresh-faced Democratic challenger Conor Lamb wins, his party's fortunes in the congressional district could rewrite the playbook for winning more races in November's midterm elections.

Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district might seem a virtual lock for Republican candidate Rick Saccone. U.S. President Donald Trump carried by nearly 20 points in 2016, and the previous Republican incumbent Tim Murphy ran unopposed his last two terms.

And that would probably be the case were it not for Lamb, says veteran Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

"Candidates matter. And Conor Lamb is a superior candidate," said O'Connell, who knows the Pennsylvania district well.

He is among a chorus of conservatives casting Saccone's candidacy as underwhelming. Lamb is on an energetic grassroots mission that's threatening to sway 2016 Trump voters, he said. 

A Republican victory won't deliver instant relief to the party. A narrow win would still be alarming. What matters is whether the Republicans can win big enough to blunt Democrats' enthusiasm and deny them something valuable — "a template to win," as O'Connell puts it.

Read more from Matt Kwong at CBC News

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Analysis & Political Strategy