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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Politicians' endorsements cut both ways

| Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, 4:03 p.m.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor, are running for Congress in a March 13 special election.

Decades ago, the young man at the bar was airing his grievances to anyone who would listen. His political star had once been on the rise, and anything seemed possible — Congress, judge — even governor. He was that good.

But it all stopped abruptly, with criminal charges and a conviction. He went away for a while, served his time. He knew the game, figured he had paid his debt, and was back in the neighborhood before most folks knew he was gone.

There was one guy, though, a former political ally up for re-election, who avoided their old hangouts and never returned his calls.

“If that guy doesn't call me back soon, I'll fix him good,” he announced loudly to the crowd of neighborhood regulars. “I'll put one of his campaign signs in my front yard!”

The next day, early, he got the call he had been looking for, and even the small favor he was seeking. He understood that political endorsements can bite both ways, and his lesson about them remains bone true.

Sometimes, you want voters to associate you with another politician, and sometimes you do not. It is tricky stuff.

We are seeing this play out in the 18th Congressional District, where Democrat Conor Lamb is facing Republican Rick Saccone in a March 13 special election. The race has national importance, and Saccone, who claims that he was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” is getting the president's endorsement.

Donald Trump won that district by 20 points in 2016, defeating Hillary Clinton, even though Democrats have an 80,000-voter registration advantage. And Republicans are throwing everything they have into this congressional race, including big money and the president's support.

But things change. Now, voters get to judge Trump on his record, not just his promises.

“It's going to be a test of whether the working class voters are going to hang in with Trump despite polls showing his job performance is lowest of any president ever in his first year since scientific polling began,” pollster Terry Madonna told the Tribune-Review last week.

Plus, political power is not easily transferred. Trump learned that twice in the Alabama race for a U.S. Senate seat.

First, Luther Strange, Trump's pick in the Republican primary, lost.

Then, after Trump switched his support to Roy Moore, the Republican primary winner, Moore suffered a narrow but historic defeat by Democrat Doug Jones.

And last week in rural Wisconsin, in a district that also went big for Trump in 2016, a Democrat handily won a special election for a traditionally Republican state Senate seat. Conservative radio host Charlie Sykes called the result “genuinely stunning.”

Sykes tweeted, “How Bad is this? Trump won this district with 59% of the vote. Previous Republican incumbent won with 63%.”

He then quoted a Wisconsin Republican leader, who said, “We are losing independent and educated women in droves.”

Since the days of the Whiskey Rebellion, the folks from the towns of the 18th Congressional District have thought for themselves and voted as they saw fit.

That is unlikely to stop now.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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