Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Brigadoon Election

Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District - partly rural, partly suburban - has comically been called the "Brigadoon" district, because it will literally disappear at the end of this year. (The 1954 musical Brigadoon was about a Scottish village that magically reappears every hundred years, only to disappear again after a single day.) Yet, although this seat will only be occupied for just a few more months, the competition for it has garnered national interest - and tons of outside money, the sure measure of significance in politics. 

Donald Trump carried the district in 2016, as did Mitt Romney before him. For four years in the early 1990s it was represented by Rick Santorum; and since 2003 it was represented by another Republican, Tim Murphy. It was his resignation last October which triggered this special election in what had come to be viewed as a reliably Republican constituency..

(Last fall, Murphy's hometown newspaper reported that an early 2017 text message from the woman he was having an extra-marital affair with revealed that the pro-life politician had asked her to have an abortion during what turned out to be an unfounded pregnancy scare. The paper also reported staff allegations of "hostile, erratic, unstable, aggressive and abusive behavior." Hence his resignation and the ensuing vacancy.)

Then along came Conor Lamb as the Democratic candidate. More precisely, along came the Trump presidency; and the existential threat that Republican party dominance poses produced an energized and enthused Democratic electorate apparently willing actually to turn out and vote in a special election! That may well make the difference in Brigadoon!

As I write this, the election is still too close to call. Conor Lamb is leading by 641 votes. If he wins, it obviously won't be a landslide. But, compared with previous Republican wins in the district (which Trump carried by 20 percentage points), for what it says about electoral prospects in November nationwide, it might just as well be a Democratic landslide - even if Lamb loses closely in the final count! Given the district's imminent evaporation and the existing Republican domination in the current Congress, this election was always more about symbolism than any immediate effect on public policy - symbolism that may be prophetic, however, for the November election and the real political changes that could conceivably flow from that.

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