WASHINGTON, Pa.—Tall and trim, with a square jaw and tidy brown hair, everything about Conor Lamb, the 33-year-old Democrat running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, is pleasantly inoffensive—like vanilla ice cream or a pair of well-pressed khaki pants. And people at the Giant Eagle grocery store loved him.
“He’s a cutie,” an older employee told me, arranging a rack of Stacy’s Pita Chips near the bakery department as Lamb walked by, greeting customers and employees alike. Ann, who declined to give her last name, is a union member who’s worked at the store for 20 years. She told me she usually votes for Democratic candidates, but when I asked her if that’s why she likes Lamb, she raised her eyebrows and asked, “Is he a Democrat?” She didn’t know his party; she just liked him. “He’s clean and he speaks well,” Ann said. “We need fresh blood. We need to get all those old fogies out.”
Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and a Marine, is running against the Republican Rick Saccone to fill the congressional seat vacated by Tim Murphy, the district’s longtime Republican representative. Murphy resigned in October after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair and asked his mistress to get an abortion. Despite having 70,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, the district—which encompasses parts of Allegheny, Washington, Greene, and Westmoreland Counties—tends to elect Republicans: Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by 20 points in the 2016 presidential election, and Mitt Romney and John McCain both won by similar margins. Murphy, who held the seat for 15 years, ran uncontested in the last two elections.