Democrats have chosen former federal prosecutor Conor Lamb (D-Mt. Lebanon) to run in the March 13 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.
Lamb secured the nomination Sunday after two rounds of balloting at a nominating convention hosted by the Pennsylvania Democratic Party in Washington, Pa. The party’s 50-member executive committee must approve Lamb’s candidacy in the next two days for him to officially become the nominee.
The special election was prompted by Murphy's resignation in October amid allegations that the pro-life lawmaker had urged a woman with whom he’d been having an extramarital affair to seek an abortion.
The election pits Lamb against state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth), an ardent conservative and strong supporter of President Trump, in a district that has been trending Republican in recent years.
Murphy had held the seat for nearly 15 years, running unopposed in 2014 and 2016, and it's still considered a likely Republican seat. Though there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, Trump won the district by a three-to-two margin in 2016.
During redistricting in 2011, the GOP-controlled legislature drew the district to stretch from the southwest corner of the state east past Ligonier. It includes parts of Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
In a speech before balloting began at the Democratic convention, Lamb said he wasn’t concerned about an unfavorable map.
“You know what? I don’t care,” he said. “I’m not worried about their maps or their manipulations. I’m worried about our people.”
Lamb criticized the Republican tax plan passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, contending it would benefit the top 1 percent of income-earners at the expense of middle-class Americans. If elected, Lamb said he’d focus on jobs and infrastructure, and in his remarks, he blasted GOP lawmakers for failing to pass an infrastructure program.
“My mission is to expose their hypocrisy and put an end to it once and for all,” Lamb said before balloting began.
The 33-year-old said addressing the opioid addiction epidemic would be a top policy priority. Calling it a national crisis, he said, “We have to take bigger, bolder action soon to prevent the further loss of life, especially among people of my generation.”
Of the 901 local and state Democratic committee members eligible to participate, 554 traveled to Washington High School for the vote.
Lamb led the first round of balloting with 225 votes. He advanced to the second round with Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, who won 153 votes, and former Department of Veterans Affairs official Pam Iovino, who won 90.
The remaining four candidates, former Allegheny County Councilman Mike Crossey, psychologist Reuben Brock, emergency physician Bob Solomon and writer Keith Seewald, were eliminated because they each received less than 10 percent of the vote. There were 47 votes for Crossey, 21 for Brock, 18 for Solomon and none for Seewald.
Lamb won the nomination in the second round of voting with 319 votes, compared to 152 for Cerilli and 74 for Iovino.
In speeches before voting began, many of the candidates told an energetic crowd that a victory for the Democrats in the special election would serve as a powerful rebuke of Trump and the Republican Party.
They also launched sharp criticism at Saccone, a pro-gun, pro-life conservative who seeks to roll back the Affordable Care Act and increase investment in the military.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest HIlls), who also spoke at the convention, called Saccone the “weakest and most extreme candidate” the GOP could have chosen.
A Catholic, Lamb said that while he personally opposes abortion, he is pro-choice.
“Choice is the law of the land, and I’ve said from the beginning that I will uphold and defend that law,” Lamb said. “I think the choice should remain with individuals, not the government.”
He declined to express an opinion on taxpayer funding for abortions, nor did he state a position on gun regulations.
Before running for Congress, Lamb served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh for three years. In that role, he helped to establish a U.S. Justice Department office focused on combating the opioid crisis and handled drug, violent crime and gun trafficking cases.
Lamb completed active duty service in the Marine Corps in 2013, ultimately earning the rank of Captain. He also comes from a prominent political family. His grandfather, Tom Lamb, was the Democratic Majority Leader in the state Senate in the early 1970s, and his uncle, Michael Lamb, is the Pittsburgh City Controller.