18th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT (KDKA) — In a little over two months, Pennsylvanians in the 18th Congressional district, which stretches across Allegheny, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland counties, will choose the replacement for former U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, an Upper St. Clair Republican.
So who are the candidates?
KDKA political editor Jon Delano sat down with both of them on Wednesday.
Meet 33-year-old Democrat Conor Lamb of Mt. Lebanon.
“I have a great and loving family that is serious about a lot of things, including education, including public service, and that’s what I have always wanted to do,” says Lamb.
Lamb is the grandson of the late State Sen. Tom Lamb, and his uncle, Michael, is the city controller of Pittsburgh.
An Ivy League lawyer, he joined the Marines following law school.
“From Penn Law School, I decided to join the Marine Corps, and so I had the privilege of a lifetime to serve as an officer in the Marines, and I’m still a major in the Marine Corps Reserves,” he said.
After the Marines, Lamb became a local federal prosecutor.
“We were doing a pretty good job in law enforcement, taking on the heroin epidemic and putting drug traffickers off the streets,” he says. “But I didn’t feel our elected leaders, especially at the federal level, were actually backing up their talk with enough action.”
So in his first attempt at elective office Lamb is aiming high for Congress because, he says, “In the Marines, they teach you as a leader that one of the things you should always do is place yourself at the point of friction, the point where things are most difficult, getting jammed up.”
That’s the Congress.
But Lamb must first defeat another military man, 59-year-old Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, of Elizabeth.
“I’m a family man. I’ve been married to my wife Yong for 38 years. It will be 39 years this June. I have two great sons, both serving in the military. One is overseas right now,” says Saccone.
Saccone was career U.S. Air Force.
“I was an aircraft mechanic — F16, F15, F4, going back the 105s from the Vietnam era,” he said.
Later an officer, Saccone joined the counter-intelligence unit, where he served in South Korea until he retired from the military.
“I came back. I finished my Ph.D. at Pitt. I was teaching at St. Vincent College and had the chance to go to North Korea as an international diplomat,” he said.
After returning to St. Vincent, Saccone ran for state House of Representatives in 2010.
“I’m working, teaching political science. I need to go do some political science,” he thought at the time.
Now Saccone sees Congress as a more logical home for his skills.
“My background is national, international affairs,” Saccone said.
So how do the 33-year-old former federal prosecutor and 59-year-old state representative differ on the issues?
Delano: “Is Donald Trump an issue in this election for Congress?”
Saccone: “Donald Trump was voted in. He nationalized that agenda, and that’s why the people voted for him. They want those things implemented.”
Saccone hopes the district, which elected Trump by 20 points, will send him, a Trump supporter, to Congress.
“He’s done a great job,” adds Saccone.
Lamb, who voted against Trump, doesn’t see this election as a referendum on the President.
“Many people are supportive of the president, and they’ve also been supportive of me because I’ve told them I want to solve problems. I want to work with the other side. I want to get things done.”
Lamb is walking a fine line, already announcing he will not support Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.
“I think Congress as a whole has failed to achieve the results that people want. It’s not a personal thing, but when that happens it’s time for new leadership,” says Lamb.
Lamb says the larger issue is Saccone’s support for House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“He’s the one that said he wants to come after Medicare and Social Security,” says Lamb. “I think that is unacceptable.”
“I’ve always supported Social Security and Medicare,” responds Saccone. “I think those are Democratic talking points that they like to twist and turn so that people can misunderstand.”
On abortion, both say they are personally pro-life, but it’s Saccone who will outlaw abortions and de-fund Planned Parenthood.
“You’re a caregiver for that human being, and we have to protect that human being that’s in the womb,” says Saccone.
“A woman’s right to choose has been the law of the land for 45 years now, and I think it should stay that way,” says Lamb.
Lamb says separation of church and state is key.
“I’m also an American, and I believe very firmly in the separation of church and state,” adds Lamb.
Saccone, who sponsored state bills to post “In God We Trust” signs, frames it differently.
“Of course there is a separation of church and state, but there is no separation of God and state because I celebrate the fact that our country was founded on Godly principles,” says Saccone. “I wrote a book on our Godly heritage.”
Both candidates were given an opportunity to challenge each other, but they really didn’t do that, keeping the sniping somewhat minimal.
Given the history of the district, Saccone is the odds-on favorite.
But Lamb is the most energetic candidate the Democrats have offered in years, and some Republicans are worried.
Which is why big money from the GOP, and Vice President Pence are expected here in the near future.