By Jim EllisAug. 2,7 2019 — Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburgh), who came to recent national political prominence when he upset a Republican special election nominee and then defeated an incumbent GOP House member in a newly created Allegheny County-anchored district in the regular cycle, has drawn a 2020 opponent for re-election.
Rep. Lamb, who campaigns as a moderate Democrat, defeated state Rep. Rick Saccone (R) by 755 votes in an early 2018 special election and knocked out then-Rep. Keith Rothfus (R) 56-44 percent last November, could face a novice Republican candidate in his 17th CD where Donald Trump slipped past Hillary Clinton, 49-47 percent.
Former Air Force pilot and local small business owner Scott Timko (R) declared his candidacy on Friday in a campaign that could become interesting. If Timko raises enough money to become competitive, the district voters appear to be much closer to he and Trump ideologically than they are to the national Democratic agenda.
Rep. Lamb keeps his distance from the national Democrats, but Timko is already attempting to push him leftward, pointing out that Lamb supports the national leadership and won’t even accept PAC contributions from private sector corporate employees who voluntarily support their company’s political action committee.
The 17th District was created in the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court’s early 2018 mandated congressional district re-draw. Just about three-quarters of the district’s population resides in Allegheny County, and covers the outer Pittsburgh suburbs from northeast of the city all the way around to the southwest. CD-17 also includes all of Beaver County that stretches to the Ohio border, and a sliver of Butler County.
As mentioned above, President Trump won a close victory within the 17th District confines, hence Lamb’s 2018 victory margin over Rep. Rothfus was more substantial than expected. Under the court’s redistricting plan, the new 17th contained 56 percent of the territory that Rothfus represented for three terms in his original 12th District, while Lamb had only 20 percent carry over from the 18th District to which he was elected shortly before the new map was created.
Even though Rothfus represented more of the common territory, Lamb still had the advantage in the paired campaign. The Democrat’s special election was a prelude to the regular cycle’s prime time and resulted in the Lamb campaign spending almost $4.6 million. This figure does not include substantial independent expenditures that increased his special election spending to almost $10 million, most of which were expended for media advertising in the Pittsburgh market, the same mass communication outlets that fully cover new District 17. Therefore, Lamb actually began the 2018 regular general election with greater name identification than Rep. Rothfus.
Looking ahead, Timko, though a first-time candidate, is already clearly laying out a contrast strategy for his upcoming challenge campaign. According to Timko, Rep. Lamb “ … has already established himself as being in the pocket of out of town special interests that kill local jobs and look down on our way of life. He talked a good game in his last campaign but has stuffed his pockets with campaign donations from special interest PACs and every leftist group and politician that he can.”
He is further attempting to establish contrasts by even playing on the congressman’s last name. In concluding his announcement release as reported in the PoliticsPA blog, Timko stated that, “the people of western Pennsylvania deserve a lion in Congress to fight for them, not a Lamb.”
Rep. Lamb begins his first re-election campaign as a solid favorite. Yet, if President Trump is to repeat his successful 2016 performance in Pennsylvania, he will have to record a strong percentage in the 17th District. Therefore, Timko could find some political wind at his back if the president performs well, which means the Republican challenger will probably benefit from increased national campaign expenditures particularly in the way of identified right-of-center voter turnout assistance.