The Observer-Reporter

No small share of voters yearn for bipartisanship, and it’s been in painfully short supply on Capitol Hill and, increasingly, in statehouses over the last 30 years or so.

In the days when a Republican like Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter was arguably more liberal than West Virginia’s Sen. Robert Byrd, a conservative Democrat, making deals across the aisle was a real possibility; now, Republicans and Democrats are firmly sorted into opposing camps, and the partisan warfare is as ceaseless and unrelenting as the Ottoman wars that persisted in Europe for more than 600 years.

The special election in the 18th Congressional District, where Republican Rick Saccone, a state representative from Elizabeth, is competing against Democrat Conor Lamb, a former Marine and federal prosecutor from Mt. Lebanon, has been another fiery skirmish in the conflict between the two major parties. In the contest to finish out the term of disgraced Congressman Tim Murphy, who resigned in October amid scandals surrounding his personal life and treatment of staffers, Lamb has been accused of being a soft-on-crime, left-wing proxy of Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House minority leader. Saccone, meanwhile, has been portrayed as a mudslinging handmaiden of Harrisburg special interests. (Also running is Drew Gray Miller, a 37-year-old Libertarian candidate from Pittsburgh, whose platform contains an idiosyncratic mix of positions from both the left and the right.)

In reality, either candidate would probably be able and competent when it comes to representing the 18th Congressional District. But we believe one of the two candidates would be better positioned to be the kind of moderate, conciliatory figure that is needed in this tempestuous moment in our political life, and that is Conor Lamb.

Lamb’s opponents have tried to argue that the 33-year-old is untested and unready, having never held elected office before. That’s a curious argument to make, considering that these same opponents supported, and have stood with, President Trump, who had never been elected to any post before winning the White House in 2016. Nevertheless, Lamb has an impressive set of credentials. An alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, with degrees in political science and law, he was an officer in the Marine Corps and has been an assistant U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh. He also hails from a political family, with his grandfather, Thomas Lamb, having been the Democratic majority leader in the Pennsylvania Senate in the 1970s, and his uncle, Michael Lamb, now serving as controller for the City of Pittsburgh.

The first Democrat with a shot at winning the conservative congressional district in many years, Lamb has refrained from full-frontal attacks on Trump and has instead relentlessly focused on what he believes are key issues for the district. He promises to make fighting the opioid epidemic a front-and-center priority, with a greater investment in treatment and prevention. Lamb is also a supporter of the Marcellus Shale industry, but believes the health and safety of residents should be a central concern. Pledging to protect Medicare and Social Security is a customary stance for candidates of either party to adopt, but Lamb is also offering a forward-looking proposal for younger people that would allow debt from student loans to be refinanced, and would help some students pay their loans if they take on certain kinds of public service jobs.

We were struck by Lamb’s sincerity and self-possession. We believe he would be a sound choice for voters in the 18th Congressional District.

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