Conor Lamb’s apparent victory in a Pennsylvania special election on Tuesday moves Democrats a step closer to recapturing the House majority this fall. It does not, however, necessarily help Nancy Pelosi in her bid to reclaim the speaker’s gavel next year.
Following a campaign playbook they’ve used for years, national Republicans tried at every turn to tie the 33-year-old Marine to the longtime House Democratic leader, who come January could reclaim the speakership she lost in 2011 after the GOP knocked Democrats out of power. Lamb early on declared he would not support Pelosi and called for new leadership in both parties.
Ultimately, the GOP strategy failed, as Lamb declared victory over Republican Rick Saccone early Wednesday. The outcome will do little to shift the immediate balance of power in Washington: Republicans will retain a comfortable House majority despite losing the seat, and the district Lamb and Saccone were fighting over will disappear once Pennsylvania adopts a new congressional map for the midterm elections in November. Lamb will have to run another campaign this year in a freshly drawn district.
The real significance of Lamb’s win, in a district that favored Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016, is what it might mean for the fall elections and the way both parties wage their campaigns. And one important question is why the GOP’s anti-Pelosi strategy fell short: Did voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district not care about Pelosi, who in leading House Democrats for the past 15 years has withstood unrelenting GOP attempts to demonize her? Or did Lamb, by deciding to oppose her, inoculate himself against those very attacks—giving Democratic candidates a model for success going forward and sending Pelosi a signal that her future as leader is in doubt?