PA18 will tell a lot about this fall’s elections

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

The nation’s political junkies have their eyes focused on Western Pennsylvania and it may give us a hint about November, 2018 will look like.

Money, media and focus have centered on the 18th District race, up Tuesday in a special election, outside of Pittsburgh, where Democrat Conor Lamb is at least within striking distance of Republican Rick Saccone. This matters because Donald Trump won that district by 20 points in 2016 — and it has typically been a strong Republican district.

Now, though, between the tough national backdrop, questions about how good a candidate Saccone is (and more specifically, how good a fundraiser he is), Trump is going all in and making a campaign visit today — we’ll argue that the tariff move (which we’ll get to further down) was partially driven by looking for appeal in this race. Additionally, Lamb has run a great race, harking back to old-school conservative Democratic campaigns of the past that were once a staple of southwest Pennsylvania.

Even if Lamb comes close, it will indicate that the state of play really has changed. Early leaks from within the GOP ripping Saccone as a poor candidate suggest growing fears that Lamb will win the seat outright, which of course would put additional terror in both Republican congressional and state legislative candidates.

We should know by early next week whether one of the two court challenges to the new district plan — the one brought by a number of Congress members — gets anywhere with the U.S. Third Circuit. A separate filing seeking a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court is also in process. Legal experts seem to take the view that neither legal endeavor is likely to succeed.

But, new districts or old, the race in the 18th should give everyone a pretty good barometer of where things stand.

***

Don’t think this race and this week is all about good news for Democrats, though.

Trump’s tariff move has widened a growing split between unions and the Democratic Party and union members — especially trade unions — might find themselves an endangered species because of it.

Yes, the tariffs — while wretchedly bad economic policy right now — will mean some additional jobs for steelworkers in places like Coatesville (for now), but there will be a hit elsewhere, starting with the United Auto Workers (UAW), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and so on will likely see net job losses. Already, before the tariffs, we were seeing a slowdown in car sales and housing starts, indicating the beginning of weakness in the economy, yesterday’s surprisingly good job growth numbers notwithstanding.

The tariff move — if it only sparks inflation a bit and doesn’t provoke a full on trade war — will likely hurt more union workers than it helps, not to mention workers and consumers across the board.

I’ll note that two factors that led to the Great Depression (there were more, including clueless monetary policy by the Federal Reserve) were big tax cuts, focused primarily at high wage earners and companies and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which stalled international trade. We’ve had the big tax cut and triggering a trade war with China could be enough to spark a downturn.

So, it’s a bit curious how Steelworkers Union and AFL-CIO leaders are acting like cheerleaders for this and essentially suggesting their members will remember Trump at the ballot box for this. Trump is allegedly a Republican — and Republicans have been pushing Right to Work, ending a requirement that public workers pay the portion of dues dedicated to negotiating new contracts and so on.

Pledging support for those hell bent on your extinction seems like a pretty poor strategy.

But this is far from the only issue separating rank and file Democrats from union members. The Mariner East II pipeline – strongly supported by the Pipefitters Union — is rapidly turning into a clusterpuck, with leaks, sinkholes and growing anger by residents across the southeast. Gov. Tom Wolf is finding himself in an increasingly tough position and may be forced to pull the plug on the project, at least temporarily, to salvage support in the crucial southeast.

So, Democrats, at least locally, are growingly disenchanted with unions. Worse, unions have struggled to deliver money and votes in recent years to Democratic candidates.

If organized labor isn’t careful, the time may come when Democrats write them off. If once again, union voters provide the votes to carry Republicans to narrow wins, as happened in 2016, expect the Democrats to cut bait.

***

In my time in politics the two worst organizations I dealt with were the House Democratic Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the Republican versions of both have their issues, but their track records suggest some fundamental competence.

The HDCC is the group responsible for reelecting and electing Democrats to the state House. So far, in the 21st century, they’ve been the Cleveland Browns of politics — wretched performers that basically burn through donated money with largely a negative effect for local campaigns. They have in recent years, blatantly misquoted content from this site, had the messaging skill of day-old dead fish and basically been a failure by every political metric one can think of.

And yet, they’re still not as bad as the DCCC, or D-Trip, which holds a special place in my heart for worst campaign organization on Earth.

In the last couple of cycles, the D-Trip has put its thumb on the scales for candidates — often really lousy candidates disliked by local Democrats (and yes, as we saw this past week, in the Texas 7th Congressional District — they even dropped opposition research on a Democrat — Laura Moser — they thought to be too liberal or some such, who advanced to the runoff and made a haul of fundraising when the story went national). They pulled similar crap in local races during the last couple of cycles (and failed hilariously, too).

But it’s not just me.

Now, there’s a new public takedown from those radicals at the Center For Public Integrity, which asked this week: “Are Congressional Democrats lying their way to riches?”

It goes into detail on the scammy nature of DCCC fundraising emails — and with good reason.

Look, as an occupational hazard, I get everyone’s fundraising emails in SE Pennsylvania. And yes, they’re all kind of weasely. But the DCCC’s are the worst, consistently.

Who to blame?

Well, as Ben Franklin said, “A fish rots from the head.”

The DCCC’s issues have to be laid at the feet of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. It’s hard to argue with those making calls for new — and fresh — leadership.

Democrats would be well served by cleaning house, so to speak.

***

At least one local school district — and hopefully more, as they haven’t shared their plans — is going to allow peaceful protest over gun violence in our schools.

Unionville-Chadds Ford School District will allow those students wishing to protest Wednesday as part of the National School Walkout, to do so for 17 minutes at 10 a.m., while allowing those who do not, to remain in their buildings. District leaders worked with student leaders to craft a workable plan — and both deserve praise. Superintendent of Schools John Sanville wrote to parents:

“Students (in high school and middle school) who wish to participate in the 17-minute walkout may – those who do not may remain in class,” he said. “I encourage parents to have discussions with their children – there are different paths forward – and family conversations can light the path that is best for your unique set of circumstances.”

Peaceful protest is a cornerstone of political speech and a great opportunity for students to express their opinions, and more importantly, begin to get involved in shaping the future of their country. Sanville and Unionville-Chadds Ford deserve praise for their reasoned and thoughtful approach to the protest.

We hope other districts in Chester County plan to handle the protests in such a thoughtful and forward thinking way.

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