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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Conor Lamb’s Victory in PA and White Working Class Voters

The following article by Andrew Levison and TDS Managing Editor Ed Kilgore, co-directors of The White Working Class Roundtable, is cross-posted from a Democratic Strategist e-blast:

Conor Lamb’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district required winning strong majorities among college educated whites in the suburbs around Pittsburgh but it could not have been achieved without also sharply reducing the margin of victory that Trump achieved in 2016 among whites without a college degree. The district includes many union members and other white working class voters who comprise around 60% of the population, many living in small towns. In 2016, Trump carried the two counties that have few college graduates by over 60%.

Last week Lamb held his opponent’s margin to 57% in one of these two counties and 53% in the other — providing the critical margin for his victory.

This TDS Strategy Memo discusses five key strategies behind Lamb’s victory in detail and explains how Democratic candidates can apply them to regain support among white working class Americans.

Most of the analyses of Lamb’s strategy in this election focused on his carefully calibrated “moderate-to-liberal” policy stances on specific issues ranging from abortion and gun control to economics and social security and union rights. But in seeking lessons for other candidates running in areas with substantial numbers of white working class voters there are five other important strategic lessons that can be learned.

  1. Lamb did not pander to racial prejudice or the demonization of immigrants. He won by seeking votes among white working class Trump voters who were not motivated by racial and ethnic bias and intolerance.
  2. Lamb’s campaign placed partisan conflict in the broader framework of the widespread cynicism and disgust that exists regarding corruption and “big money” domination of the political system as a whole. His refusal to be defined as a “Nancy Pelosi Democrat” was designed as a signal that he was seeking to move beyond “business as usual” in the political system.
  3. Lamb’s campaign was based on promising authentic and sincere representation rather than support for any broad Democratic agenda. He emphasized local issues and his identification with the actual needs of his constituents rather than adherence to any formal national agenda.
  4. Lamb had deep personal roots in the district. His father and grandfather were well-known political figures and Lamb himself grew up in the district. After military service, he returned to the state to work as a federal prosecutor.
  5. Lamb did not strictly follow either of the two main Democratic political strategies — Bernie Sanders’ progressive populism or “third way” centrism. He shaped his campaign platform to the specific contours of his district rather than allying himself with either broad strategic approach.

Visit The White Working Class Roundtable wesbsite.

3 comments on “Conor Lamb’s Victory in PA and White Working Class Voters

  1. Candace on

    I still don’t understand why this site thinks its necessary for the democrat party to fixate on attaching race to working class and college educated.

    If the majority of Lamb’s district is white what purpose does it serve to mention it?
    I keep thinking there’s going to be some kind of opinion/policy economic class comparison made along racial lines, also not what I’m hoping for.
    Is there something incomplete about working class only? Will white majority areas not know they’re being spoken to unless a politicians or strategists says white when talking about working class?
    Is the democrat party saying there are some economic policies that are white? #3 would be good advice anywhere with any mix or majority hue of skin.

    Its like this site is implying there’s some kind of white identifying, flannel and baseball cap wearing, oversized truck sporting, uni-mind, the democrat party must become one with. Forget the rest of you, the Republicans don’t approve.
    But also it all comes across as patronizing like white working class is some kind of specimen that responds if poked this way or that.

    With the list: don’t #3 and #5 contradict with the reason for putting these strategies here?
    Aren’t you trying to create a soft white working class democrat national strategy out of why you think Lamb won and replace or add to the two you mentioned? Seems like it.

    • Victor on

      Precisely. If Democrats used race neutral working class messaging maybe they could get all people to register and vote. It is well known that the problem with the working class and poor isn’t that they vote Republican, but that they don’t vote at all.

      Democrats don’t care about white working class people or minority working class people. Other than tepidly defending in a reactionary manner some welfare programs (including healthcare) the party lacks vision.

      • Candace on

        The Democrat Party could never satisfy the Republican unless they self destruct and even then only if it was particularly painful to watch.
        So in the event that the worst happens in the next election for America, (I mean outside of the likely events that get us there) to gain the favor of those impossible to please Republicans, Democrats could walk barefoot on tacs, eat broken glass or something like that to you know, snazz up their defeat a bit.
        And then some Democrat strategists will be there taking notes on how many white working class chose tacs compared to college educated whites who oddly chose to chew glass.


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