Conor Lamb-Keith Rothfus race could be key to U.S. House control in midterms
Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Keith Rothfus are the nation’s only two incumbent members of Congress pitted against each other in this year’s pivotal midterm election.
Both sides say the race could determine which party controls the U.S. House in January. Republicans currently hold 235 seats to Democrats’ 193, with seven seats vacant.
Lamb and Rothfus are running in the state’s newly formed 17th Congressional District, which includes Beaver County, part of Cranberry in Butler County and about half of Allegheny County, including much of the Alle-Kiski Valley and suburbs north, west and south of Pittsburgh.
Rothfus, 56, of Sewickley has been a supporter of President Trump’s policies, including last year’s tax cuts, which he said are necessary to ensure continued economic growth and shore up Social Security and Medicare. He said Lamb favors Democratic policies that would roll back tax cuts and put a “brake” on the economic growth they’ve generated.
Lamb, 34, of Mt. Lebanon supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Rothfus has pledged to repeal. He said Rothfus supports a Republican agenda that would allow insurance companies to end coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for the tax cuts.
Both candidates dispute the claims that have been highlighted daily in televised political ads.
“I have found that most people would rather have us talk about what we are for, rather than what the other guy did,” Lamb said. “They hate those negative ads.”
Polls suggest Lamb is leading the race by double digits, but Rothfus said the polls are skewed toward Democrats. Rothfus said internal polling shows he’s in a much better position, but he declined to share the polling data.
“I think you have to take a close look at the construct of those polls and the sample sizes and the over-representation that they have built within the polls weighting them heavily towards the Democrats that do not justify or reflect reality,” Rothfus said. “I always knew this was going to be close.”
Lamb paints himself as a moderate willing to cross political boundaries if a piece of legislation makes sense. He did that in September when he voted to make permanent individual tax cuts and a doubling of the standard deduction and of the Child Tax Credit. Those provisions were set to expire in 2025.
Lamb drew national attention earlier this year when he defeated Republican Rick Saccone in a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy in the 18th Congressional District.
“I voted for the tax cut when it was actually for middle class people, and I’m not afraid to cross political lines,” Lamb said. “I was one of only three Democrats to vote on that.”
Rothfus accused Lamb of backtracking.
“After spending a year criticizing the tax cut as a giveaway to the wealthy, he went and voted to extend the tax cut,” Rothfus said. “It’s kind of hard to figure out where this guy stands.”
Lamb said his bipartisanship might have surprised Rothfus because “he might be used to always voting the party line.”
“Maybe it confuses him when somebody crosses party lines,” he said.
Both sides have accused the other of supporting cuts to Medicare and Social Security, but both Lamb and Rothfus pledged support for the entitlement programs.
They disagree on Obamacare.
Rothfus said he would vote to repeal former President Obama’s landmark bill, but only if it provides coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.
“We need a way to cover people with pre-existing conditions while also delivering a plan that actually lowers premiums,” said Rothfus, a cancer survivor, who pays his own health care premiums.
Lamb conceded that Obamacare has flaws, including increasing insurance premiums, but he said government should work to improve it.
“Are you going to scrap the entire thing and have no replacement?” he said. “They have no credible plan to replace it.”
The two candidates agree that much more needs to be done to combat the opioid epidemic and improve care for military veterans.
The race has been heavily funded.
From Jan. 1 through Oct. 17, Lamb had raised $8.9 million to Rothfus’ $2.9 million, according to Federal Election Commission records. Outside groups have poured another $9.7 million into the race, with about $8 million being spent on ads opposing Lamb or supporting Rothfus, the Center for Responsive Politics reports.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.