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Special Election Kicks Off for Tim Murphy’s Seat

Murphy resigned his seat amid a sex scandal

Democrat Conor Lamb, left, and Republican Rick Saccone are competing for Pennsylvania’s open 18th District seat. (Courtesy Conor Lamb/Rick Saccone/Facebook)
Democrat Conor Lamb, left, and Republican Rick Saccone are competing for Pennsylvania’s open 18th District seat. (Courtesy Conor Lamb/Rick Saccone/Facebook)

The special election for former Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy’s seat is kicking into gear now that each party has its candidate. Democrat Conor Lamb, a former Marine and federal prosecutor, will face Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, a former Air Force special agent, in the March 13 election.

Murphy, a Republican, resigned his 18th District seat in the wake of a scandal that included an extramarital affair.

It is not clear if the race will draw the same national attention as other special elections this year. The race is not ranked among current competitive House seats for 2018. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican. And by March, the national party committees will likely be focused on the broader midterm map. 

Both candidates were chosen at party conventions as there are no primaries for special elections. They are expected to concentrate on local issues affecting the mainly white, working-class district in southeastern Pennsylvania, which includes the suburbs around Pittsburgh.

Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the district. Forty-six percent of registered voters are Democrats, compared to 41 percent who are registered as Republicans, according to data provided by the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s office. But that does not indicate an advantage for the minority party, one national Democratic operative cautioned.

Voters in the district have tended to support Republicans in recent years. President Donald Trump carried the 18th by 20 points last fall, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. GOP presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain did the same in 2012 and 2008, respectively. 

Murphy, who was first elected in 2002, ran uncontested in 2014 and 2016. He won re-election in 2012 by 18 points. He resigned in October after allegations of an extramarital affair and that he encouraged his mistress to seek an abortion. As a congressman, Murphy was an anti-abortion rights. 

Lamb likely faces an uphill climb even in an open-seat race. The 18th District is not on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s expansive list of 91 targets for 2018.

“There’s a long road ahead,” Lamb said after he received the nomination Sunday night, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There will be no doubt at the end of these next few months who represents the families of this district.”

Though Lamb has not run for office before, his family has ties to local politics. His uncle is Pittsburgh’s city controller. Lamb’s grandfather was the Democratic leader in the state Senate and served in former Gov. Robert P. Casey’s administration. (Casey’s son, Bob, is now Pennsylvania’s senior senator.)

Republicans wasted no time tying the Democratic nominee to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Greg Manz, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, called Lamb “Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked candidate” in a statement Sunday and said he is “far too liberal for one of the nation’s most conservative districts.”

Saccone, the GOP nominee, represents a state House district that overlaps with part of the 18th District. He had previously launched a Senate campaign against Casey, but dropped that bid after Murphy resigned.

Saccone served in the Air Force as a special agent based mainly in South Korea, according to his campaign website. He remained in South Korea after retiring from the Air Force. He went on to serve in Iraq as a civilian, working in counterintelligence. He was first elected in 2010 to the state House, where he has earned a reputation as one of its most conservative legislators.

A supporter of the president, Saccone told reporters after he was selected as the party’s nominee that he would fight for Trump’s agenda, including cutting taxes and combating gun control, the Post-Gazette reported.  

“It’s the people’s agenda, it’s the agenda we voted in last November,” Saccone told Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate KDKA. “And I want to go down there and help the president. He’s getting beat up a lot, he’s getting a lot of resistance, and he needs help.”

Both candidates will also have to decide before the March 13 election is over if they want to run again for the seat later in the year. The special election is only to serve out the remainder of Murphy’s term. If either intends to run for a full term, they will have to file by March 6. The primary for the November 2018 election in Pennsylvania is scheduled for May 15. 

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