BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. – Since Democrats started bleeding moderates in 2009, the best course correction they've made was to step aside and let Western Pennsylvania Democrats pick Conor Lamb as their nominee for the 18th Congressional District.
Lamb is not a full-throated progressive. And a deep-blue progressive would not be within striking distance of winning this race in a suburban-rural congressional district, where, despite having a 25,000-voter registration advantage, Democrats didn't even field a candidate in 2016.
Conor Lamb (pictured center) speaks with veterans at a campaign event at the American Legion Post 902 in Houston, Pa. (Justin Merriman / Washington Examiner)
Lamb, though, is within striking distance.
Lamb's position on guns (he supports no new legislation on gun control) and his public denunciations of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could help Democrats take this seat.
The question is whether Conor Lamb is an anomaly. Notably, he did not win the nomination in a primary where progressive activists play a bigger role in who wins. Instead, he was picked through local committee members, who are older and more conservative.
Or do he and his campaign become the new normal – a mold which Democrats use repeatedly to gain back majorities not just in the House, but also in down-ballot races in state legislative bodies across the country?
Conor Lamb supporter Annie Shaner of Peters Township, Pa., is dressed as a leprechaun as she joins in The Women's March on Washington-Pittsburgh "Power to the Polls" in Market Square in Pittsburgh. (Justin Merriman / Washington Examiner)
The answer is unclear.
In Illinois, a seven-term Democratic congressman, Dan Lipinski, a pro-life moderate, has been kicked to the curb by the national party in his primary race with challenger Marie Newman, a businesswoman, whose campaign is flush with support from EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, and the Human Rights Campaign.
While the seat is safely Democratic – the only Republican challenger is a wackadoodle bent on gaining attention rather than votes – what a Newman win does do is make the Democrat House more progressive with one more moderate kicked out.
Then, there is the Georgia governor’s race. Former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is running against former state representative Stacey Evans, the moderate.
Abrams, who is black, has shored up the big progressive endorsements from Emily’s List, Democracy for America, MoveOn Political Action, and the Working Families Party.
Evans, a working-class white who rose up out of abject poverty, is more moderate and pro-business. She could attract independent voters and moderate Republican voters unhappy with Trump politics, and she wants to actively pursue them for the general election.
Evans has attracted to date zero national endorsements, but has put plenty of shoe leather to the test traveling the state earning support. Which is where the real votes come from, not the progressive Netroots Nation conference where her speech was suspiciously heckled by protesters to the point where few could hear it.
Democrats have a moment that pivots on their upcoming primary races this spring and summer – go moderate, which is where most of America’s sentiments lie outside of the activist heat, and have a successful and meaningful majority.
Or go full resistance and support progressive candidates to rebuild the party from scratch and demand every candidate be pro-choice, support strident gun control, hate Wall Street, and take to the streets every other Tuesday.
Whether Lamb wins or not on March 13, one thing is for certain: He will face primary challenges from the Left in the state’s primary contest just weeks after his special election race.
It is unclear where he will run (the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court just redrew all 18 districts, eliminating the one he is running in now). What is clear is that he is running and that several progressives are already planning on challenging him.
Salena Zito is a columnist for the Washington Examiner.