In a nail biter, Conor Lamb is the apparent winner in PA-18

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In a tight race that went through the night, the moderate Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory in the year’s first congressional special election, in a district carried by President Donald Trump.

It was a long night, but ultimately a happy one for Democrats in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Democrat Conor Lamb appears to have defeated Republican Rick Saccone in the Pennsylvania 18th District special election, by just a few hundred votes. NBC News named Lamb the “apparent winner” at 5:30 am Wednesday.

It was a stinging rebuke to Trump, who not only won Pennsylvania in 2016, but has repeatedly weaved a narrative out of that victory, of coal miners and other “forgotten men” of the state’s rural areas delivering him that victory. Tuesday night, one of those districts — one carried by Trump by 19 points — turned around and rejected the Trump-backed candidate, after a campaign in which Trump visited the district twice and held a rally three days before the vote.

Sure, there are other lessons from the race, starting with the importance of candidate selection: Pretty much every observer of the race, from every party, is in agreement that Lamb was a excellent candidate and Republican candidate Rick Saccone a terrible one. Various Republicans were anonymously trashing their own candidate throughout the final days of the race, on everything from his fundraising prowess to his mustache. (“It’s a porn stache,” one Pennsylvania GOP strategist told the Washington Examiner.)

Still, as many observers pointed out Tuesday night, this bodes terribly for the GOP’s chances to retain Congress in November, for two big reasons. One is that there are many, many districts up for grabs that are bluer than the district that the Democrats just flipped over 100, according to one much-shared tweet from the Daily Kos elections account. That could lead to even more retirements by Republican incumbents.

Even more so, the Republicans pulled off a lot of tricks in the PA-18 race that are likely to play a role in their November playbook. Touting the GOP-passed tax cut. Tying the Democratic candidate, at every turn, to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. A massive Trump rally in the district. Specific policy moves — i.e., steel tariffs — aimed at winning seats. Accusing their opponents, as Saccone did in the final days of race, of hostility to Donald Trump, America, and God.

The Republicans did all of that in Pennsylvania, in a red district, and none of it worked. Just imagine how badly they’ll do in even more competitive districts.