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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

March 17, 2018

Democrats' Win in PA Sends Shock Waves Through Virginia Republicans

Midterm / Elections / National

Pennsylvania state flag

Last Tuesday, voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district went to the polls to vote in a special House election to fill a seat left vacant by when Republican Tim Murphy retired in the wake of a sex scandal. Despite gerrymandering that gives Republicans a large registration advantage the election was predicted to be close due to the anticipated “Blue Wave” predicted to affect this November’s midterm elections. The Democratic Party candidate, Conor Lamb, eked out a narrow victory, overcoming a 20 point deficit to do so. Lamb, a former Marine and assistant U.S. Attorney, carried the district by 641 votes. In a late-night victory speech Lamb declared “|I|t took a little longer than we thought, but we did it!” In an appearance on Morning Joe the next morning, Lamb explained that his victory was the result of “good old-fashioned hard work” and a grass-roots campaign that was specifically tailored to the needs of voters in that district. However, according to Wason Center assistant director Rachel Bitecofer, evidence indicates that Lamb’s victory is powered by big turnout increases by Democrats in the suburbs of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County. “In a district with a nearly 2-1 registration advantage for Republicans, Democrats made up 46% of the electorate. This indicates Lamb’s win was powered by Democratic voters and not be crossover voting by former Trump supporters.”

Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate and a four-term state representative, has not yet conceded and is still exploring legal options to contest the outcome. However, Lamb’s lead seems solid enough to ensure his victory given that there are only about 500 provisional, military, and other absentee ballots left to count, as reported by election officials.

While Republican leaders have attempted to minimize the significance of Lamb’s election victory Lamb’s win sent shockwaves through congressional Republicans. There are currently 114 districts held by Republicans where Trump’s margin of victory was smaller than in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional district. Looking at the special elections that have taken place since Trump’s election, there has been a trend in suburban voters breaking from Trump to vote for Democratic candidates. Additionally, polls are showing that liberals have been making up an increasingly greater share of the electorate since Trump’s election.

Looking ahead to Virginia’s midterm elections, our most recent poll found that, among registered voters, Democrats hold a 15-point enthusiasm advantage over Republicans, with 60% of Democratic voters saying they are “very enthusiastic” about voting this November, compared to the 45% of Republicans.

Results from a Wason Center survey examining partisan preferences in Virginia's congressional districts. Eight of the eleven districts favor the Democratic candidate by at least 60 percent.

The enthusiasm gap creates double-digit leads for Democrats on the generic ballot and control of Congress questions, which become more than 20 point leads when looking only at respondents who are likely to vote. Wason Center polling, combined with election results in Pennsylvania, Alabama, and elsewhere suggest there could be as many as four incumbent Republicans in trouble in the Commonwealth. Democrats have advantages on the generic ballot among likely voters in the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 10th districts. The Wason Center will be following the elections closely in these districts and will be polling them in the fall.

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