Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Saccone (R - Elizabeth) and attorney Conor Lamb (D - Mt. Lebanon) are running in the March 13 special election to complete the rest of former Congressman Tim Murphy’s (R - Upper St. Clair) term in office.
But, if they want to run for the next full term, they might soon need to adjust to new political terrain.
That’s because Monday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the state legislature to draw new congressional districts before the primary election on May 15. It found that existing lines violate the state constitution after a group of Democratic voters challenged the current map as an illegal partisan gerrymander designed to favor Republicans.
But, it’s not clear whether a new map in the primary would benefit first-time Democratic candidate Lamb, said Sandi DiMola, a political science professor at Carlow University. As a newcomer, DiMola predicted Lamb could have a hard time pivoting to a new version of Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District if it includes new territory where’s he’s unfamiliar to voters.
“If you’re a new candidate in the race, if you’re a challenger,” she said, “I think it creates a lot of uncertainty as to not just what you’re district’s going to do, but it’s also going to impact your campaign. Part of a campaign is really to build loyalty with your potential constituency.”
Since Saccone has already run for office and won, she said, he’s likely to have greater name recognition that can carry into new areas.
“Incumbency advantage always benefits, because you’re known,” she explained. “You have better financial backing usually because you are known.”
Monday's ruling will not affect the March 13 special election. Shortly after the decision was announced, Republican lawmakers indicated they would request a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, which could delay the timing of any map changes.
Regardless of who wins the special election, candidates in the 18th District must run in the May primary in order to serve the following two years. Experts expect Lamb and Saccone to seek their respective party’s nomination in the May 15 primary.