2018 Elections: PA – 18 Goes Blue

In Pennsylvania congressional district that was so strongly Republicans in 2016, Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate. PA-18 went for Donald Trump 20 points over Hillary Clinton and incumbent Representative Tim Murphy (R) ran unopposed. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rated the district R+11 due to partisan gerrymandering. Then Murphy had to resign last year, when it was revealed that the eight term pro-life Republican had an extramarital affair and asked his pregnant girl friend to have an abortion.

In a special election to fill the vacancy, the Republican hold on the district ended last night when the Democrat Conor Lamb, a former Marine and former federal prosecutor, won a razor thin victory of the Trump backed Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone. That was a 21 point shift from November 2016. Mind you, this district will not exist in the November 2018 election under the new redistricting map drawn up by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court so Rep.-elect Lamb will only serve until December 31 but his win has made the GOP very nervous.

The Democrats only now need to take 23 seats in order to end Republican control of the House. In a post a week before the PA-18 election, Democratic strategist Larry Sabato, at his blog Sabato’s Crystal Ball, had moved the district from Leans Republican to Toss-up. That wasn’t all, according to Sabato:

In addition to that (PA-18) ratings change, we are making 25 other changes in the House, all in favor of Democrats.

No Democratic incumbent is now rated worse than Likely Democratic, a nod to the reality that in a Democratic-leaning environment it will be difficult for Republicans to dislodge many or perhaps even any Democratic incumbents, though there are a handful of Democratic open seats that are more viable Republican targets.

— After these ratings changes, for the first time this cycle we have fewer than 218 seats (the number needed for a majority) at least leaning to the Republicans.

— Making his debut in our competitive House ratings is the chamber’s most powerful member, Speaker Paul Ryan (R, WI-1). While his district is competitive but clearly Republican-leaning on paper, this shift mostly reflects uncertainty surrounding his future.

While Sabato conservatively thinks that there is 50-50 chance of the Democrats taking the House (he said he was being kind to Republicans), he doesn’t think they will win much more that the 23 they need. There are others who are more optimistic, like, amazingly, CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, who looked at the Cook’s Political Report’s partisan voting index (PVI) and surmised this:

So, in the case of PA-18, it has a PVI of R+11, meaning that in the last two presidential elections it has performed 11 points more Republican than the nation as a whole.


That PVI score makes Pennsylvania’s 18th district the 124th-most Republican district in the country. (The most Republican district in the country is Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry’s 13th, with a PVI rating of R+33.)
Here’s where things get very, very scary for Republicans: According to the latest edition of the Cook PVI ratings, which are based on the 115th Congress, there are 119 seats currently held by Republicans that have PVI scores of R+11 or lower.
One hundred nineteen! That’s exactly half of the 238 seats Republicans currently hold — HALF. It’s far beyond the 23 seats that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 that are currently represented by a Republican. It’s roughly five times as many seats as Democrats would need to pick up — 23 assuming Lamb wins — to retake the House majority come November. And it’s well more than the 74 seats that the Cook Report ranks as marginally competitive as of today.

Currently the Democrats hold 193 seat. There are 119 vulnerable Republicans seats. Winning even half of that would give Democrats an overwhelming 251 seats. No wonder they are nervous. This of course is speculative depending on a number of factors

– an enthusiastic Democratic turnout

– a depressed Republican turnout

– Trump’s continuing antics, which is pretty much a given.

As Charlie Pierce said, Conor Lamb’s victory does matter and Speaker Paul Ryan should be scared

Republicans had the money. They had the gerrymandering. They still couldn’t do it.

This was the last gasp of 10 years of successful electoral chicanery in Pennsylvania, and the Republicans couldn’t boot their candidate home even with $10 million pumped into the district from the national party and from its vast reservoir of PACs and dark money. They couldn’t organize it. They couldn’t buy it. And they couldn’t steal it. That pretty much eliminates all possible ways Republicans generally win elections these days, and bringing in the president* for a last-ditch manic episode didn’t work, either. Not even the crazy was enough.