- - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Democrats have proved twice that they can win congressional seats with a Republican playbook. The Grand Old Party campaigned for years with the mantra, “vote Republican, we’re not as bad as you think.” The plea often failed. Republicans just didn’t know how bad a lot of voters thought they were.

Democrats are warming themselves by this abandoned Republican fire. First in Alabama, running against a man credibly accused of molesting children, the Democrats won temporary possession of a Republican seat in the U.S. Senate.

This week in Pennsylvania a Democrat won a Republican seat in the House by running as a Democrat Lite, arguing successfully that he doesn’t stink like Nancy Pelosi and the party regulars. The New York Times, in a celebratory mood, called it “a staggering upset,” though most Republicans appear to still be upright. The margin was as thin as a sheet of Bible paper, but short of a successful recount, which is extremely unlikely, Conor Lamb, 32, a former Marine and onetime prosecutor, will take a seat.

House Speaker Paul Ryan calls the result a wake-up call, and if there are any complacent Republicans left in Washington the wake-up call should be accompanied by a bucket of ice water splashed across their faces. The speaker relates the wake-up call to fundraising, but the Republican problem goes deeper than needing a few dollars more.

They’ll have to campaign not as defenders of a comfortable status quo, but as if they were hungry challengers. That’s how they won the House after Democratic dominance of 40 years, and that’s how they will keep it, if keep it they do.

Mr. Lamb was helped by Democrats in the national party leadership who understand that the only way to win in conservative districts, like the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District in the southwest corner of the state, is through camouflage. Mr. Lamb looks and sounds like none of the usual liberals of the left who threaten to drag the Democratic Party off the left-most cliff. Mr. Lamb promises to assist in sending Nancy Pelosi to the showers, and even says he’s “personally” against abortion, which is not a promise to vote against it when crunch-time comes.

Mr. Lamb’s margin of 627 votes was just about as close as it could get out of 230,000 votes cast. Republican officials in Washington say they’re likely to demand “a recount through litigation,” but that was a threat on a bitter morning after, and cooler heads may decide that the thousands of dollars that would be consumed on a recount could be better spent on the campaigns to come elsewhere, perhaps even in Pennsylvania whose redistricted congressional districts have been redrawn by the courts. Neither Mr. Lamb nor the man he defeated, Rick Saccone, live in the newly redrawn district.

The bad news for the Democrats is that the left wing of the party is out for a slash-and-burn election to seize control and remake the party into something where there’s no room for reasonable moderates like Conor Lamb. These are hard times for the mushy middle in both parties. Sad, but true.

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