Is Conor Lamb the Dems’ last, best hope to hold the U.S. Senate? | Monday Morning Coffee

Can the suburban Pittsburgh moderate deliver for the Dems in 2022? Or will progressives carry the day?

October 4, 2021 7:21 am

Conor Lamb announcing his run for U.S. Senate in Pittsburgh on Fri., Aug. 6. (Pittsburgh City Paper photo by Kaycee Orwig).

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Say what you want about the parliamentary-style government of our neighbors to the north, but if there’s one decided advantage to the snap elections that returned Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau to power (without a governing majority), it’s that the recent campaign season in the Great White North was weeks, rather than months, or years, long.

Alas, the same cannot be said of the closely watched race for Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be vacant (‘soon’ being entirely relative) U.S. Senate seat, which technically began when its current occupant, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, of Lehigh County, announced his retirement a year ago this month.

But it already feels one geological age longer.

Thus any prognosticating about who will emerge from the hilariously overcrowded Democratic and Republican primary fields kind of feels like trying to figure out who’s going to win the 2024 Stanley Cup (Let’s just say the Carolina Hurricanes right now. Because, well, it’s their turn, dang it.).

But, God love them, that has not stopped any number of pundits from trying.

Which brings me, after a set-up longer than the opening crawl of a Star Wars movie, to a Vanity Fair story this weekend focusing on the political fortunes of U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, and whether he is, in fact, the Democrats’ best hope of hanging expanding, or at least preserving, the party’s currently razor-thin majority in the upper chamber.

Lamb is, Vanity Fair’s Ken Stern writes, a manifestation of the Democrats’ “strategic belief for the 2022 midterms.”

Namely, “that if Democrats want to prevail in a 50-50 state like Pennsylvania, they’ll have to do more than run up big leads in cities and suburbs, which have recently trended blue. They’ll also have to ‘lose better,’ as one Democratic Party leader put it to me, in places like Potter County,” which is where Stern caught up with Lamb for his story.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman [Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller]

More astute readers will recall that Lamb, a former Marine and federal prosecutor who first won a special election for his seat in suburban Pittsburgh’s Mount Lebanon in 2018, and then re-election in his own right, is in the upper tier of a pack of Democratic Senate hopefuls that also includes Lt. Gov. John FettermanMontgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia.

And here, as they say, is where the plot thickens.

If we know one thing about Democratic politics at the moment, it’s that progressives such as, are in ascendance. Or at least like to think they are — even if voters sent a very different message in congressional races in 2020.

To wit:

“In Pennsylvania, Lamb is part of a crowded field. John Fetterman, the incumbent lieutenant governor and a favorite of the MSNBC set, has gotten off to a strong fundraising start, but several insiders have questioned his staying power,” Vanity Fair’s Stern observes. “One noted that the ‘fact that he pulled a shotgun on a Black guy [several] years ago is a real problem for him’ and predicted that it will “ultimately be something that disqualifies him with a lot of voters.”

Pennsylvania is one of three states, as has been noted (Ohio and Wisconsin are the other two) just about everywhere — including in this space, where Democrats stand the best chance of hanging onto their Senate majority. Thus, on one level, picking a moderate such as Lamb, whose appeal could arguably cut across partisan divides, makes sense.

Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022 (screen capture)

But, as Stern further notes, there’s “no consensus yet on whether the moderate strategy is the winning one.

“Earlier this year, Steve Phillips of the Center for American Progress argued that the goal should be to expand the coalition of white progressives and people of color, not to reclaim the working-class whites lost to [former President DonaldTrump,” Stern continued. “This, [Phillips] wrote, is how Democrats won in Georgia and Arizona and is also the way forward in the industrial Midwest.”

A lot of this is predicated, of course, on which candidate emerges from a very Trump-y Republican primary field. A progressive could, indeed be a very good counterweight. But a moderate such as Lamb might also appeal to the same blue-collar voters in western Pennsylvania who put him in the House in the first place.

Either way, former Gov. Ed Rendell tells Stern that he believes GOP hopefuls face the “Hobson’s choice” of going “all in for Trumpism at the risk of alienating swing voters,” in the Philadelphia suburbs, for instance.

The Vanity Fair piece ends with Lamb stumping in blue-collar Johnstown, which sent Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Frank Burns to Harrisburg.

And when Stern asks Lamb about Campaigns in the Time Of COVID, he responds that, “”even among Democrats…you do not see the most stringent adherence to or maybe the strictest interpretation of the CDC guidelines that you might expect.’”

For Stern, “it’s another not-so-subtle reminder of the challenge he faces, in places where Democrats may have less in common with the left than they do with the right.”

It’s also a reminder that the 2022 primary is still eight months away, and that the general is five months beyond that.

Those Canadians might be onto something.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.

In a story that tells you pretty much all you need to know about how most of us coped with the pandemic: Pa. hit a liquor sales record in fiscal 2020-21Cassie Miller has the details in this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

A decade after the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ it’s a whole new world for LGBTQ service members in Pa. and beyond, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News reports.

Congress has a plan for universal pre-K. But will states opt in? Capital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa takes up the question.

Our partners at City & State Pa. would like you to meet the climate candidate running for Pa.’s sought-after U.S. Senate seat.

Abortion rights supporters rallied in Harrisburg and across Pennsylvania on Saturday to protect Roe v. Wade, I report.

In Pittsburgh, city residents shared polarized views on the future of the city’s Columbus Day parade, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

A state Senate bill shoring up Pennsylvania’s fiscally shaky dog law enforcement efforts is unlikely to move this sessionCassie Miller reports.

State Police say Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Gerow was sideswiped by a motorcycle during a tragic crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in July, Cassie Miller also reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman wonders whether Democrats on Capitol Hill are ever going to get their act together. And, yes, vaxxing may be vexing, but dying is about 100 times worse, columnist Frank DeFilippo, of our sibling site, Maryland Matters, writes.

En la Estrella-Capital:  Los legisladores del occidente de Pa. presentan el proyecto de ley de cannabis para adultosSaltando al debate nacional, el Panel de la Cámara de Representantes de Pa. aprueba el proyecto de ley para publicar currículos escolares en línea. Y Giovanni Negron-GarciaUna historia de superacion personal.

(Image via The Philadelphia Gay News)


The Inquirer considers whether Local 98 of the IBEW will retain its political clout as the trial of its leader, John Dougherty, gets underway this week.

Public housing in Pittsburgh suffers from crumbling buildings and is plagued by failed inspections, the Post-Gazette reports.

Vaccination rates among Pa. nursing home workers remain ‘woefully’ lowPennLive reports.

Five years after a rewrite of state liquor law, LancasterOnline looks at how Pennsylvania’s beer distributors have adapted to the new topography.

Pennsylvania’s first Latina district judge, Nancy Matos Gonzalez, will retire after 30 years of hearing cases on Bethlehem’s South Side, the Morning Call reports.

The city of Wilkes-Barre will start work on a playground for special needs children this month, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

WHYY-FM goes behind the crisis in child care for working parents that’s helping to drive the labor shortage.

Chambersburg’s mayor has vetoed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance that was approved by borough council, WITF-FM reports.

GoErie introduces readers to a local man who’s transforming old houses into new spaces (paywall). explains why COVID-19 antibody tests won’t give you the answers you’re looking for.

Roll Call updates on the latest (such as it is) on talks on the infrastructure bill and the budget reconciliation bill.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The House comes in at 12 p.m. The Senate is out of voting session until Oct. 18 for some reason.
9 a.m., 140MC: House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Education and Education Committee Subcommittee on Higher Education
10 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Children & Youth Committee
10 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Family Law
10 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Professional Licensure Committee
11 a.m., B31 Main Capitol: House Insurance Committee
1 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Judiciary and State Government committees
2 p.m., 8EA East Wing: Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development and Senate Environmental Resources & Energy committees

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
10 a.m.: Reception for Rep. Karen Boback.                                                   6 p.m.: Reception for the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus Foundation’s scholarship program. Hit both events, and give at the max, and you’re out $3,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.                                                        Belated best wishes go out to veteran Democratic activist Abe Amoros, of York, and veteran Harrisburg radio personality, Michael Anthony Smith, both of whom celebrated on Sunday.

Heavy Rotation
It’s always a good day when there’s new music from Elbow in the world. From their upcoming LP, here’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid.’ And if you’re thinking – ‘Hey, that’s the title of the LP that won them the Mercury Prize!’ you’d be right. It’s a deep vein to mine, apparently.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The start of the 2021-22 NHL season is almost upon us. previews what’s ahead for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.