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Conor Lamb eyes run for Congress in new district

| Thursday, March 15, 2018, 4:03 p.m.
Conor Lamb speaks to his supporters during his victory speech at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe in the early morning hours of March 14, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Conor Lamb speaks to his supporters during his victory speech at the Hilton Garden Inn at Southpointe in the early morning hours of March 14, 2018.

Fresh off an apparent victory in Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District, Democrat Conor Lamb is taking steps to campaign in a new district northwest of Pittsburgh, setting himself up for a potential electoral showdown with Republican Keith Rothfus.

Lamb, 33, of Mt. Lebanon filed papers Wednesday seeking the Beaver County Democratic Party's endorsement in the 17th Congressional District, which includes parts of Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties, said Beaver County Democratic Chairman Stephen Dupree. Lamb's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Mt. Lebanon became part of the 17th District after the state Supreme Court established new congressional districts last month. Sewickley, where three-term Republican congressman Rothfus lives, also is in the 17th District. Rothfus has said he is preparing to run for re-election.

The vote tally from Tuesday's election gave Lamb a 627-vote lead over Republican opponent Rick Saccone, 60, of Elizabeth Township, with about 375 provisional, military and overseas ballots yet to be counted, according to the Associated Press.

The Beaver County Democratic Committee will endorse a candidate at a meeting next Thursday at the Monaca Turners club in Center, Dupree said.

Four other Democrats are seeking to replace Rothfus: Erin McClelland, a behavioral health care professional from Harrison; Aaron Anthony, a University of Pittsburgh doctoral student and former Shaler Area teacher; Ray Linsenmayer of McCandless, an energy consultant and local Democratic activist and Beth Tarasi, a Sewickley attorney.

Dupree said Lamb has the advantages of having an established campaign operation that raised millions of dollars in the 18th District special election race, along with name recognition from TV ads the campaign aired across the region.

"He certainly has name recognition. However, there are not many people in Beaver County who have met him. So that is a negative," Dupree said.

The Butler County committee's endorsement will help whoever gets it, but it isn't necessary to win the May 15 primary in the district, Democratic strategist Mike Mikus said.

The district has some similarities to the district where Lamb found success campaigning as a moderate who supports Second Amendment rights, Mikus said.

"Despite all the negative ads run against him, (Lamb's) favorable ratings remain very high and I don't see any reason that wouldn't translate into this new district," he said.

Still, Rothfus has proven formidable in past campaigns, said Robert Morris University political science professor Philip Harold.

"Assuming this holds up, (Lamb is) a winner, he's an incumbent, so he's meeting Rothfus on an equal footing," Harold said of Lamb.

The race likely would draw much less money than the 18th District race but in other ways would be similar, Harold said.

"I think it would be a pared-down version of what we saw against Rick Saccone," Harold said. "With the exception — it's a low bar — but Rothfus would run a better campaign."

Rothfus has joined other Republican leaders in filing legal challenges to the state court's authority to institute the new congressional district map. Primary elections are May 15.

As for Saccone, his campaign Twitter account posted a message Thursday afternoon encouraging volunteers to help him circulate nominating petitions in the Supreme Court's newly established 14th Congressional District, which covers Washington, Greene, Fayette and part of Westmoreland counties. Saccone doesn't live in the new 14th District, but congressional candidates aren't required to live in the district they want to represent. Voters in the new 14th favored President Trump in the 2016 election by about 20 percentage points.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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