The 2018 special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District was one closely watched by both parties. Pennsylvania, which was narrowly and surprisingly won by now-President Trump in 2016, has waffled on its partisanship throughout its Districts. In this special election, two veterans were the candidates running against one another for the seat, and it was the former Marine Democrat Conor Lamb who took another relatively surprising win over Republican and former Air Force officer Rick Saccone.
It was all but expected that Saccone would come away with the victory. After all, President Trump himself had joined his counterpart on the campaign trail on numerous occasions, and the District itself had built a reputation for being heavily conservative.
But it was Lamb, an attorney who served in Okinawa, Japan as a prosecutor for rape and sexual assault cases as well, who walked away with the win after Saccone conceded. Was it Lamb’s military experience that lent him more credibility with the former Repulican supporters? Or was it his strikingly independent platform that won him the race?
The truth is, military may have come into factor for voters on both sides of the coin in this race. Saccone, in his own right, was a veteran of the United States Air Force. He served as a counterintelligence officer and also worked as an interrogation consultant in Iraq as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army. He is a longtime ally of Trump’s who has aligned himself with several Republican-favoring platforms. Theoretically, this should have all worked in his favor when it came time for voters to cast their decisions.
Lamb, meanwhile, used his independent platform to sway the votes of those whom he needed to convince the most to vote for a Democrat. While running as a Democrat, Lamb set himself apart by breaking party lines on a few platforms. For example, he’s voiced his support of 2nd Amendment rights as well as come out against abortion. He also came out saying that he would not support Nancy Pelosi as the House Speaker. It very well may have been these decidedly different takes on routine Democrat positioning that won him the seat that he was supposed to lose.
It’s commonly known that veteran experience often lends more strength and credibility to a candidate. Particularly if the candidate has any form of combat or overseas experience, it seems that voters may support and/or trust these candidates more. In this case, two very strong veterans were running against each other. The difference in their platforms is what the voting came down to, as both had high levels of support from their respective parties in the lead-up to the election.
By campaigning a mixed platform that resonated with both parties, without alienating one, Lamb was able to garner enough support to panic stout Republicans in the final days of the campaign. Even a last-ditch effort to raise funds for more support for Saccone proved ineffective as Lamb took the win. Another ineffective tactic was to attempt to tie Lamb solely to the Democratic agenda, therefore widening the gap between him and Republican or more conservative-leaning voters. This, however, also failed to stick as Lamb himself came out in support of several more conservative agendas.
While military experience may well have helped Lamb earn his victory, it was likely the strength of his platform and the local ties that Lamb held that assisted him with the win. Voters, particularly those with military experience themselves may find themselves gravitating more towards a veteran candidate. However in this race, it came down to platform.
The benefits of having veterans in politics are immeasurable. Many outlets have pointed to veterans as a great medium in times of hyper-partisanship such as the political environment we find ourselves in now. So is the upcoming election cycle the prime time to run, as a veteran? Find out here.