Resistance-minded Democrats have scored a number of state-level victories after striking out early on in President Trump's term, with heavy turnout among motivated partisans flipping legislative seats from red to blue -- including in some areas that "should" have been safe. The party's biggest wins were handily holding Virginia's governorship en route to nearly pulling off an epic upset in Richmond's House of Delegates last fall. At the federal level, Democrats had come up empty in a series of contested special elections, falling short in battles over five GOP-held seats (despite improving their margins considerably in most of them). Then they pulled off a dramatic coup in the Alabama Senate race, capturing an unwinnable seat, thanks to a perfect storm on the other side of the aisle. A scandal-plagued governor made an ethically-dubious appointment to fill Jeff Sessions' vacancy, leading to a battle royale between 'the establishment' and Bannonite populists, the latter of whom prevailed in a messy primary. In doing so, they nominated an absolutely horrendous candidate who imploded among key Republican voting blocs, somehow losing to a Democrat in perhaps the reddest state in the union. It was a stunner, but the reasons why that seat was lost were not replicable for the opposition party elsewhere.
Next Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, in the southwest corner of the state, is another story altogether. The previous Congressman resigned amid an ugly scandal, and the GOP is now battling mightily to retain control of the seat. They've poured gigantic amounts of money into the race, with Republican Party and outside conservative groups out-spending their counterparts (but getting less bang for their buck) in an effort to stave off a challenge from a young military veteran named Connor Lamb. The goal is to run the successful playbook from Georgia's version of this race last year, tying the Democratic nominee to Nancy Pelosi and her liberal agenda. Two differences: First, unlike in the Atlanta 'burbs, this race truly is in Trump Country. It's a district the president carried by 11 points in 2016. Second, the Democrats are running a better candidate who has distanced himself from Pelosi, while the GOP entrant has been an underwhelming campaigner and fundraiser (requiring lots of outside help). If Republicans lose this one, their anxiety about the fall will deepen, and rightfully so. A number of recent polls shows the conservative, Rick Saccone, leading by single digits. But a new survey shows Lamb surging slightly ahead:
That's within the margin of error, and it's just one poll. But Republicans I've spoken to have been sweating this one -- and even a thin GOP lead in public polling could be wiped out by strong Democratic turnout. Team Lamb is making a big final push, bringing in an in-demand surrogate to help him finish strong:
One thing that Dems have going for them in this district is that the tax law remains unpopular there, unlike many other swing districts, where its numbers have improved. On the other hand, even as he talks like a moderate blue dog, Lamb has decided to align himself with his party's radical abortion lobby, even opposing a widely-supported restriction on elective late-term abortion. On this issue, he's bucking the state's Democratic US Senator, who is one of the few non-abortion-extremists remaining in his party's entire Congressional delegation. If a socially conservative Trump district is willing to elect someone who's been relentlessly tied to the uber-unpopular Nancy Pelosi in ads, that would be a worrisome sign about the magnitude of the blue wave that's building. Republicans have pulled out nearly all of the stops to prevent that from happening. We'll know next week whether that massive investment was worth it. I'll leave you with the type of message center-right forces are deploying in a frantic attempt to get their people to the polls, and to warn voters that Lamb is a liberal wolf in sheep's clothing:
UPDATE - Trump is headed to the district.