Democrat Conor Lamb’s stunning victory Tuesday in a suburban Pittsburgh congressional district easily won in 2016 by President Donald Trump has convinced Democrats and some independent analysts the party has a chance to compete for at least two GOP seats in Ohio.
Although Lamb apparently prevailed over Republican Rick Saccone by less than a thousand votes, the loss of a solidly Republican seat during an economic boom has filled GOP officials with fears they could lose the U.S. House in November.
In addition to the open 12th district seat in suburban Columbus held by retired Republican Pat Tiberi, Democrats believe they have an opportunity to defeat Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, who is running for re-election against Democrat Aftab Pureval, the Hamilton County clerk.
“I think it puts the Tiberi seat in play,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, who campaigned for Lamb. “It puts the Cincinnati seat in play,” referring to Chabot, a longtime arch conservative.
“Looking at the landscape today, there is a great opportunity” for Democrats to seize control of the House, Ryan said. “The key is if we let the local candidates run their local races and stay focused on an economic message.” If that happens, Ryan said, “you are talking about a huge tidal wave coming.”
Republicans have yet to concede defeat in the Pennsylvania race. But in the aftermath of Lamb’s apparent victory, Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, moved the Ohio 12th seat from “likely Republican” to “leaning Republican.”
He also changed the Republican seat held by Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth from “safe” Republican to “likely” Republican. Renacci is giving up the seat to run for the senate.
Kondik gave the same new “likely” rating for Republican seats held by Steve Stivers of Upper Arlington and David Joyce of Russell Twp. He rates the seat held by Mike Turner, R-Dayton, as safe for the Republican congressman.
“The Republicans clearly have a problem nationally and it seems centered in well-educated suburbs and Ohio-12 is an affluent and highly educated district,” Kondik said.
Republicans have an edge in all 12 districts currently held by Republicans, but recent events have caused some to question whether Trump’s popularity is holding. When he appeared in Pittsburgh in January and tweeted an endorsement of Saccone, GOP internal tracking polls showed Saccone’s popularity dipped.
Still, knocking off a Republican in Tiberi’s former district is wishful thinking on the part of Democrats, GOP strategists say.
They argue Lamb, a former Marine, separated himself from Democrats nationally when he said he would not vote to retain Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California as House Democratic leader.
“I hope they spend a lot of money in Ohio because it will be a complete waste,” said Barry Bennett, a former adviser to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who served as a senior campaign aide to Trump in 2016.
Corry Bliss, the head of a Republican political action committee supporting GOP House candidates, said “the lesson from Tuesday is this is a very challenging environment for Republicans.”
“In order for us to be successful this year, we need good candidates who raise money, work hard and run strong campaigns,” Bliss said. “It’s not nice to say this, but the facts are the Rick Saccone campaign was a total joke. If he could have walked and chewed gun at the same time, he would have won.”
The Republicans rolled out their favorite hits in Pittsburgh and none worked. Trump campaigned for Saccone during the final week and TV commercials boasted about the Republican Congress slashing taxes. The White House believed it added the crowning touch by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
Instead, Lamb seized advantage of the tax cuts to contend the Republicans would have to restrain the growth of Social Security and Medicare to avoid massive projected deficits.
Bennett doesn’t blame Saccone’s defeat on the tax cuts. Rather, he said, he should have“run on things that make people angry,” such as government inefficiency and “why opioids are allowed to cross the border to kill our kids.”
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