The new congressional map issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Monday shifts Democrat Conor Lamb — who lives in Mt. Lebanon and is running in the special election to fill the vacant seat in the current 18th District — into a new district and potentially a competitive primary.
Under the court’s plan, the former federal prosecutor would live in the newly drawn 17th District, which includes the northwestern half of Allegheny County and all of Beaver County. Republicans have vowed to challenge the plan in federal court as soon as Wednesday.
The court's 17th District ranks as the most dramatic departure in the Pittsburgh region from the previous congressional lines. It displaces the 12th District, which sprawls from the Ohio border east past Johnstown and is currently held by Republican Congressman Keith Rothfus (Sewickley).
Four Democrats announced last year that they would challenge Rothfus in the midterm election. They include Aaron Anthony (Shaler), Ray Linsenmayer (McCandless), Tom Prigg (McCandless), and Beth Tarasi (Sewickley). Like Rothfus, all four will live in the 17th District if the new map takes effect.
Given the current political climate, the Democratic primary could be especially critical in a new 17th, said Neil Makhija, a lecturer at Penn Law School.
“Winning a Democratic primary in a new 17th District is probably going to be more challenging than actually unseating Representative Rothfus, if this is the kind of wave year that is historic and we were kind of expecting,” Neil Makhija said.
Anthony, Prigg and Tarasi all welcomed the latest map, which they expect would increase their party’s voting power.
“The people in the 17th, that’s what they want – they want their voices to be heard in Congress, and they want a chance,” Tarasi said.
In a statement Tuesday, Lamb said that while he’s focusing on the special election in the 18th, he will seek a full congressional term in November. He didn’t say in which district he would make a primary run, which is necessary to pursuing a full term.
Under the U.S. Constitution, representatives do not need to live in the district they serve, as long as they live in the same state.
The new map creates a dilemma for Lamb, according to Makhija. While, as a moderate, Lamb could pull off an upset in the current, Republican-leaning 18th district, Makhija noted that the new 17th would likely tilt farther left.
“The question for Conor is, does he want to be a Scott Brown, where he pulls off this one-time moment because the winds are behind him?” Makhija asked. “Or, does he really want to be in a seat that he can represent the area around Allegheny County in the long term?”
The court’s plan pushes Lamb’s Republican opponent, state Rep. Rick Saccone (Elizabeth) into the same district as Democratic Congressman Mike Doyle (Forest Hills), who is expected to hold onto the seat in 2018. Saccone indicated to the Post-Gazette that he’ll run in the May primary.