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A Quick Primer On The District 18 Special Election & Where The Candidates Stand

Keith Srakocic

Drawing national attention and serving as what many consider an early indicator for the2018 midterm election cycle, today all eyes are on Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, the candidates vying for a seat in the 18th Congressional District. 

As the hotly contested special election finally reaches its long-anticipated conclusion, here’s a guide to everything you need to know from the candidates’ policy positions to where you can find your polling place.

About the special election

Nation-wide focus on the district began with Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-Upper St. Clair) resignation after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he asked a woman he was having an affair with to get an abortion, despite his anti-abortion policies. 

District 18 is comprised of parts of Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties, and borders West Virginia. If you are unsure whether or not you fall into the district, you can check your address to see if you should be heading to the polls tomorrow. Open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., you can also check where your closest polling location is.

The candidates

Conor Lamb (D-Mt. Lebanon), a 33-year-old former assistant U.S. attorney who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserves, is a first-time candidate and the first Democrat to run in the 18th district in five years. Several prominent figures in the Democratic party have come to his aid to help the campaign, includingRep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) and former Vice President Joe Biden. Raising $3.3 million in 2018 alone (five times that of his opponent, who raised $703,000), Lamb has given the GOP a run for their money in a traditionally conservative district.

Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), a 60-year-old fourth-term Pennsylvania State House Representative for the 39th District, had planned to challenge Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) in the upcoming midterm elections until he was chosen as the Republican nominee for the special election in November 2017. Saccone is also a former Air Force Officer and civilian employee with the U.S. Army in Iraq, and highlights a diplomatic mission to North Korea in the early 2000s as one of the high points of his career. Both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have joined him on the campaign trail; Trump has visited the district twice. Saccone has promised to be an ally of the President if elected to Congress, and once stated, “I was Trump before Trump was Trump.”

On the issues

Gun control:

In the wake of the nationwide debate following the shootings in Parkland, Fla. last month, both candidates iterated similar positions on guns in their first debate. Lamb, sharing Saccone’s view, stated that he opposed a ban on assault weapons or ammunition clips, breaking from party lines in an attempt to appeal to the conservative voters in the district. Both candidates called for better background checks. However, Saccone received an endorsement from the NRA and holds an A+ rating with the organization.

Health care:

Lamb has stated that, though he is a Catholic, he would take a pro-abortion rights stanceand support Planned Parenthood (a similar view to that of Sen. Casey). Saccone, endorsed by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, National Right to Life and LifePac, has always taken an anti-abortion rights stance on the issue throughout his political career.

Lamb has made the heroin and opioid crises one of his campaign priorities, outlining that we should “invest in prevention” and “expand access treatment and rehabilitation.” Additionally, he calls for legislation to create stricter punishments for the drug dealers fueling the crisis. Saccone has held the position that government can only do so much in the fight against the opioid epidemic, stating that “we can’t legislate or treat our way out of this problem - it’s much bigger than that.”

Similar to many in the Democratic party, Lamb acknowledges that the Affordable Care Act is flawed, but supports it based on its success in providing coverage to millions of uninsured Pennsylvanians. He advocates for building upon the successes of the ACA and fixing what isn’t working. Saccone takes the opposite view on Obamacare; on his campaign site, he states that the ACA has made health care “unaffordable” and wants to utilize “free-market principles,” giving the idea of purchasing health care across state lines in their second debate, to alter the healthcare system.

Tax cuts and jobs:

Following the passage of the tax bill in the U.S. House and Senate in December 2017, this has been one of the more contentious issues between Lamb and Saccone throughout the campaign. The issue has been used in campaign ads and has been one of the central arguments in debates.

Saccone, in favor of the tax cuts, has criticized Lamb for supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) view on the tax cut. Saccone’s campaign has highlighted Pelosi’s referral of the tax cut for the middle class as “crumbs” as negative, stating that many small businesses and employees have positively benefitted from the tax cuts.

Lamb has stood steadfast in his opposition of the tax bill despite the attacks, criticizing it for adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit and, rather than calling the tax cuts “crumbs,” refers to them as a “betrayal of the middle class.”


Following the president’s announcement of proposed steel and aluminum tariffs, both Saccone and Lamb voiced support of the plan during their second debate. Lamb suggested that the tariffs should be limited to “bad actors” like China to spare allies, and both said it would level the international trade playing field.

Redrawing the map

With news of the new Pennsylvania congressional map breaking in the midst of the special election, questions of how it may affect the results or the candidates have been raised. Though it won’t directly affect tomorrow’s special election, both candidates have stated that they would run in different newly drawn districts this year. Though Lamb has stated he’d like to run for a full term, he hasn’t definitively said where. His home in Mt. Lebanon now falls within the newly proposed 17th District, in which he’d potentially run against incumbent Keith Rothfus. Saccone is potentially opting to run in the new 14th District.

What are the odds?

Though the 18th district is traditionally conservative - Trump won the district by more than 20 points over Clinton in the 2016 election and Murphy held the seat for eight terms - as the race draws to a close there is a question of whether or not the seat will swing left.

A Monmouth University poll has shown Lamb up about five points over Saccone. However, according to Emerson College professor Spencer Kimball, the results will all depend on voter turnout