Democratic U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb has survived three tough races in western Pennsylvania to defeat Republican opponents, but now he finds himself in a primary fight for the U.S. Senate nomination.
Lamb, a 37-year-old Allegheny County resident, has four primary opponents, but his eyes are squarely focused on Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a fellow Allegheny County resident who has consistently led in polling and fundraising.
“I’m in the Joe Biden lane, and that’s the lane he wants to be in but he isn’t in because his history doesn’t support that,” said Lamb.
Lamb and other Democrats are running to replace U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, who is not seeking re-election. The primary is May 17.
When it comes to the question of electability in a general election, Lamb insisted that there is no comparison, pointing to his three victories in friendly Republican western Pennsylvania territory.
“We don’t have to be hypothetical about this,” said Lamb. “We can just look at what each of us has done in the last four years and it speaks for itself.”
Successful runs for United States Representative
A Marine Corps veteran and former federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh who burst onto the Pennsylvania political stage in 2018 when he won a hotly contested special election in the old 18th Congressional District outside of the Steel City, Lamb has earned the reputation as a moderate Democrat that holds true to traditional party values, such as strongly backing labor.
His family has political roots in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Thomas Lamb, Lamb’s grandfather, served in the state House and was the state Senate Democratic Majority Leader in the early 1970s. Lamb’s uncle, Michael Lamb, is the controller of Pittsburgh.
In a district that went for former President Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points, Lamb slid past former state Rep. Rick Saccone by 755 votes in 2018 although Trump twice came to the district to campaign for him and Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and then-Vice President Mike Pence also made visits.
Later that same year, Lamb defeated then-U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus in the 17th Congressional District general election by almost 13 points. It was the only race pitting two incumbents against each other that year and Trump took multiple shots at Lamb via Twitter while endorsing Rothfus.
Lamb once again found himself in Trump’s crosshairs in 2020 when the former president strongly backed Afghanistan combat veteran, author and Fox News contributor Sean Parnell.
Parnell pushed Lamb to the brink, but the Democrat survived another close race, winning 51% to 49%. Still a Trump favorite, Parnell entered the GOP primary for U.S. Senate but dropped out after he lost a Butler County custody court fight in which his ex-wife made allegations of abuse.
Defending his voting record
During the Senate race, though, Lamb has found himself under attack from progressive Democrats accusing him of being too supportive of Republican policies and comparing him to West Virginia U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has frustrated many in his party by opposing several Democratic initiatives, most recently President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better plan.
“It’s just not an accurate attack,” Lamb said of the comparison to Manchin. “It’s just not a true thing to say.”
In his own defense, Lamb said he has supported the Build Back Better plan as well as a $15 per hour federal minimum wage and women’s reproductive rights.
Progressives, however, have pointed to Lamb’s opposition to new gun laws and his insistence that background checks, closing loopholes and better enforcement of existing gun laws should work to decrease crime.
Some of those on the left still seethe over Lamb’s remarks following his and Biden’s wins in 2020 when in an interview with The New York Times he declined to criticize progressive U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and other members of the so-called “Squad,” but said their calls for defunding the police and banning fracking were turning off a large portion of voters.
“The fact is that they and others are advocating policies that are unworkable and extremely unpopular,” Lamb told the Times.
“Speaking as an American”
According to a fivethirtyeight.com analysis of congressional voting records, Lamb’s votes coincided with Trump’s positions 22% of the time, with many of those votes coming in 2018 on issues such as expanding the eligibility for health savings accounts, opposing a carbon tax, and allowing new businesses to deduct start-up expenses.
Lamb voted to impeach Trump in both cases brought against the former president and repeatedly voted for bills that funded government without providing additional money for Trump’s ill-fated border wall.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Lamb took to the House floor to give an emotional address that fueled a brief confrontation with angry Republicans.
“We know that attack today didn’t materialize out of nowhere,” Lamb said in his floor speech. “It was inspired by lies — the same lies that you’re hearing in this room tonight. The members who are repeating those lies should be ashamed of themselves, and their constituents should be ashamed of them.”
The impassioned speech surprised many because it clashed with Lamb’s usual placid demeanor. Lamb said the attack “went to the deepest part of what I believe” as a veteran, prosecutor and public official.
“That night I really didn’t feel like I was speaking like a Democrat against Republicans,” he said. “I felt like I was speaking as an American against people who were aiding and abetting an attack on our government itself. It probably shifted my mindset a little bit.”
Check list, to-do list
Lamb said his most recent legislative accomplishments have been his work and votes for Biden’s infrastructure bill and American Rescue Plan. The infrastructure bill brought $857 million to reconstruct the crumbling Montgomery Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in Beaver County and $77 million to renovate the Emsworth Locks and Dam on the same river in Allegheny County, both of which are vital to keeping commercial river traffic flowing toward the Mississippi River.
Lamb said he was proud to return to Obama-era methane emission standards after Biden took office, which struck a balance between protecting the environment and industry jobs. He supports an incremental raising of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.
Those earning $40,000 to $50,000 a year also need higher wages, he said, and working to make unions stronger will have a domino effect.
“Strengthening the rights of labor unions overall will help raise wages because it gives them more of an ability to bargain on their wages, helping raise pay in the public sector,” said Lamb.
Lamb also pointed to his work on trying to lower prescription drug prices and allowing Medicare to bargain over the price of drugs and using savings to provide free dental, vision and hearing coverage.
There is “an enormous backlog” of bills in the evenly divided Senate because Republicans have used the filibuster to block votes, Lamb said. “I am a vote to get rid of the filibuster,” he said, so important issues can be tackled.
“Gun violence cannot be ignored. Immigration cannot be ignored. A woman’s right to choose can no longer be ignored. Voting rights, themselves, can’t be ignored and that’s what the Senate does,” Lamb said. “It’s not like they’re voting down our ideas. They’re ignoring them and refusing to take action because of the obstacle that the filibuster creates.”
Lamb said the Biden administration has handled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine well and kept the NATO alliance strong. However, Lamb said as a senator he would take a more forceful approach to get across the message that the United States is helping Ukrainians win the war with the goal being to “beat Putin and send him back to where he came from.”