Rick Saccone’s loss to Conor Lamb was not only an embarrassment for the GOP, it also cost the party a pretty penny.
In a race that was tight till the bitter end, Saccone, the Republican hopeful, fell short by a scant few hundred votes, in a district that went for President Donald Trump by 20 points just over a year ago
So what’s going on here?
The special election was held to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy, a staunchly pro-life Republican who resigned in 2017 after reports surfaced showing that he was having an affair. Moreover, his mistress had become pregnant and he urged her to have an abortion.
Saccone, who nonsensically said he was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” trailed Lamb, 33, an attorney and a former Marine, who’s his Democratic opponent. So far Saccone hasn’t conceded, Vox reports.
Which means that Republicans have a bit of thinking to do. Especially since the GOP poured $7 million into Saccone’s campaign.
— Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) March 13, 2018
Writing for Vox, Tara Golshan notes:
“Regardless of outcome, after an extensive and heavy-handed media campaign, the results may force the GOP to reconsider its messaging and recruitment. Clearly, money didn’t get them very far.”
Indeed Lamb’s Tuesday night victory was a smack in the face to Republicans, having occurred in a district that Saccone should have won. Demographically and historically, southwestern Pennsylvania’s 18th District consists of older, mostly white voters, with a total minority population of less than five percent. And it leans heavily Republican, with an R+11 rating
Of course, some creative gerrymandering by the GOP is the main reason this district is largely Republican. Fortunately, that was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court.
But Saccone proved to be little more than a costly failure. His campaign fundraising proved to be dismal, so outside Republican groups, including, Golshan writes, “the national campaign arm for House Republicans” got involved in the hopes of scoring a victory.
And for this election, Republican spending was veritably through the roof, notes The Washington Post. Republican groups vastly outspent Democrats. As of February 27, Saccone’s campaign and affiliated groups spent a whopping $9.1 million on the race via the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee, with a few other groups tossed in. Democratic organizations and labor unions, however, spent less than $1 million.
Republicans, well aware of the situation, panicked and threw more money at their problem. The campaign arm for House Republicans tossed in an additional $619,644 on media in the prelude to the election, spending a total of $3.5 million on media purchases last week, Golshan reported.
AMAZING: the NRCC just reported ANOTHER $619,664 on media in Pennsylvania 18. They are up to $3.5 million in a district trump won by 20.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) March 6, 2018
On top of all that spending, Trump surrogates have also campaigned for Saccone, and the president has even visited the district twice, appearing at a campaign rally Saturday. At the rally, he rabble roused Congress to defund “sanctuary cities” and voiced support for giving drug dealers the death penalty.
Republicans were quite obviously avoiding additional news cycles about the Democratic surge.
“When Trump leaned so hard into this district, sending his surrogates, and then going in Saturday — they are taking this as the bellwether of what is going to happen in the midterms and taking this as the ‘ride or die’ for what it could be,'” said Alison Dagnes, a political scientist at Pennsylvania’s Shippensburg University.
So the GOP has hit the proverbial brick wall. And Pennsylvania Republicans will face an even harder brick wall in November because the 18th District’s demographics will change once again when the seat comes up for reelection again. The map will be redrawn in a way that’s more favorable to Democrats. And that may bode well for Democratic attempts to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018. Now that Saccone has been dropkicked, Republicans hold 12 out of 18 House seats.
So clearly, Saccone’s campaign has turned into a dead horse. Come November 2018, will Republicans realize you can’t beat that?
Lamb declares victory in the video below.
Featured image by Conor Lamb for Congress, Flickr