AP NEWS

In Pennsylvania race, Democrats work on appealing to working-class white men

March 6, 2018

Democrats have tossed diversity overboard in favor of a white-guys-on-deck strategy in next week’s special congressional election between Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone in western Pennsylvania, hoping to recapture some of the working-class white voters who have fled the party in recent years.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is set to join Mr. Lamb at a pair campaign rallies on Tuesday, following earlier drop-ins from former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III and House Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

“The people that he has brought in are white males, and that is not necessarily the contemporary face of the Democratic Party, but still an important group within the party and one that in the 18th district with its demographics and being so overwhelmingly white is probably a pretty natural fit,” said Christopher Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College.

Democrats have been on an electoral roll since President Trump’s election, winning statehouse seats, a governor’s mansion and a Senate seat but they’d failed to capture any House seats, despite coming close in several races last year.

They’re hoping to finally add that feather to their cap next week with Mr. Lamb, in a district that should have been an easy hold for the GOP, full of the working-class white voters who powered the president’s 2016 victory.

Mr. Lamb, though, has catered to those voters, refusing to follow his party leaders on a push for expansive gun controls after last month’s school shooting and welcomed along with Mr. Saccone, President Trump’s plan to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Mr. Trump already has visited the area for Mr. Saccone and plans to return to the Pittsburgh area on Saturday to tout his tariffs plan.

Mr. Lamb has also taken pains to distance himself from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, suggesting he would oppose her as his party’s leader in the House.

Michael O’Connell, a Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant, said Mr. Lamb has played it safe with his choice of surrogates, shunning up-and-coming Democrats with liberal crusading records, such as Sens. Kamala Harris or Cory Booker.

“You have not for instance seen Sen. Kamala Harris, and honestly anyone who suggested that to Conor Lamb would be committing political malpractice,” Mr. O’Connell said.

Instead, it’s Mr. Biden whose roots are in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and who has maintained an image as working-class Democratic hero, despite eight years at the side of President Obama.

Mr. Biden’s campaign schedule has sparked talk of a 2020 presidential bid, and he’s done much to stoke the conversations.

“By the way, all these so-called racists who voted against us last time out, remember a black man and an Irish Catholic kid won all those places before,” Mr. Biden said in an address to the House Democratic Caucus this year.

A Rasmussen Reports survey released over the weekend showed Mr. Biden leading the pack of possible contenders for the Democratic nomination.

The survey also showed that in Mr. Trump leads a generic Democrat by 7 percentage points among whites, and trails by 9 percentage points among minority voters and by 6 percentage points among women.

Mr. Biden believes he could have won the White House if he had run. But he decided against a bid following the death of his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015.

The white guys strategy may work in some areas, but it’s not likely to be a winner nationally.

Indeed, in last year’s special Senate election in deep-red Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones won by using Mr. Biden, Mr. Booker and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. He earned strong turnout among black voters in the cities, which proved to be instrumental in his win.

“Of course if you are going into an urban area in the United States as a Democrat candidate you would look for stars that might resonate both through identity and ideology,” Mr. Borick said. “So it would impact those decisions in a way that would be quite different than what you would see in the 18th district.”