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Ratings Change: Pennsylvania Seat More Vulnerable in Special Election

18th Districts shifts from Solid Republican to Likely Republican

Rep. Tim Murphy, center, R-Pa. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Tim Murphy, center, R-Pa. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

While the dust has barely settled on Democrat Doug Jones’ historic victory in Alabama, the next special election is just three months away. Republicans normally wouldn’t have trouble winning a district like Pennsylvania’s 18th, considering Donald Trump carried it by nearly 20 points in 2016. But the 2017 slate of special elections demonstrated Republicans’ ability to turn every race into a struggle, even in favorable territory.

Earlier this fall, GOP Rep. Tim Murphy publicly admitted to having an extra-marital affair, text messages surfaced in which he urged his mistress to have an abortion and a separate memo that alleged a toxic work environment in his office went public. The congressman eventually resigned, effective Oct. 21.

Instead of primaries, local party officials nominated GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone and former assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Lamb, a Democrat, to face off March 13. Some Republicans are concerned their nominee is too polarizing for the district, while Lamb could be the test case for other Democratic veterans running elsewhere around the country who are hoping their military credentials trump the partisanship of their districts.

This race has yet to generate national attention. Both candidates were in Washington, D.C. last week without fanfare. But based on past special elections, it seems inevitable this race in western Pennsylvania will get more competitive and generate more attention over the next three months.

Trump carried the district 58-39 percent over Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Mitt Romney won it 58-41 percent in 2012. But Democratic enthusiasm and the traditional midterm drag on the president’s party will test the district’s partisanship.

We’re changing the Inside Elections rating of the special election race in Pennsylvania’s 18th District from Solid Republican to Likely Republican. You can read Leah Askarinam’s deep dive into the race in the Dec. 15 issue of Inside Elections.

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