The Slatest

Rep. Conor Lamb Beats Rep. Keith Rothfus in Rare Election Between Two Incumbents

Lamb smiles in front of a crowd. A person in front of him holds a sign saying "Steelworkers for Lamb."
Conor Lamb greets supporters at an election night rally in March 2018 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Moderate Democrat Conor Lamb, who rose to fame in the spring with a surprising triumph in a special House election in a deeply red district, has been projected to win his race against Rep. Keith Rothfus after a court ordered an overhaul of Pennsylvania voting districts, planting Lamb in a more Democratic district and making it the only race in the country to pit two incumbents against each other.

The district was projected to go for Lamb, a result of a court battle over gerrymandering that Republicans in the state ultimately lost. The new congressional map approved by the state Supreme Court eliminated much of the previous map’s partisan lean, and it was expected that Democrats and Republicans would come close to splitting the districts evenly—a change that would help Democrats in their push to take control of the House. Lamb, who had won the special election in the 18th Congressional District, was pushed into the 17th, which was much more heavily Democratic. Rothfus, who had been twice re-elected, was pushed from the state’s 12th district. Seven House seats that had been considered safely Republican are now competitive as a result of the redistricting, according to Reuters.

Lamb’s win in the special election in March amounted to a coup for Democrats. He won in a district that Trump had won in 2016 by about 19 points. Pundits argued over which elements of the race proved key to Lamb’s election, but some speculated that Lamb had succeeded in maintaining the anti-Trump resistance by keeping the race local, staying moderate, courting labor, and distancing himself from Nancy Pelosi. Those who saw different narratives in Lamb’s win drew different conclusions about the future of the Democratic Party in Trump country, but most believed it meant something promising about the party’s ability to win back working-class voters.

Regardless, we are likely to see more of Lamb, who, with his Rust Belt appeal, seems a dream candidate for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.