That was going to be the takeaway regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District. The fact that Democrat Conor Lamb was running a close race in a district that Mitt Romney had won by 17 points and that Donald Trump had won by 20 points was remarkable in and of itself: evidence of a fired-up Democratic base and an apathetic Republican one. But Lamb’s apparent victory was stunning nonetheless, evidence that the Democrats are poised to retake the House of Representatives in the fall.
Much is already being made of the weakness of Republican candidate Rick Saccone, whom President Trump reportedly referred to as a “weak” candidate in the hours before polls opened. There is already a lot of analysis about what Lamb’s success means for the Democratic Party, given that he is a pro-gun moderate who distanced himself from a number of liberal positions, notably on immigration. But to a large extent the particulars of the race are beside the point. The big picture is simple: Democrats have a huge advantage heading into the 2018 midterms and they appear to be poised to pick up seats in deep-red districts.
For the moment, well-educated, suburban voters are driving this trend. In 2016, Trump was able to cobble together a coalition of these voters and working-class ones by pushing an amalgam of conservative and (relatively) liberal positions. But that coalition appears to have already frayed and Republicans haven’t figured out how to field candidates in a world where Trump is president. On Wednesday, Paul Ryan was telling Republicans that the results in Pennsylvania should be a “wake-up call” and that they should aggressively fundraise and run on the tax bill that was passed last year. But Saccone raised more money than Lamb and ran on the tax bill. It didn’t work.