Mar 14, 2018, 1:10 PM ET

GOP shrugs off Pennsylvania special election results

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House Republicans are deflecting the stinging results in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, discounting Conor Lamb’s strong performance as an aberration and not a bellwether heading into this fall’s congressional midterms.

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“I think Mr. Lamb was brilliant. He ran as a Republican. So, it worked for him. He certainly didn't run as a Democrat,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said.

“I'm fine with the elections because it was a special election,” Kelly added. “I don't know if I'd look at this one race and say, 'Oh my God, this is horrible what happened.' Listen, I thought Conor Lamb ran a very good race because he ran on the Trump agenda. He ran totally against his party.”

While the race remains too close to call, Democrat Conor Lamb leads Republican candidate Rick Saccone by several hundred votes. President Donald Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016.

Rep. Leonard Lance, a moderate New Jersey Republican from a district where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump, said he wasn’t worried the race potentially signals trouble heading into the fall.

“Secretary Clinton carried my district by 3800 votes and I was honored to carry it by 38,000 votes, and I analyzed last night that Conor Lamb ran as a conservative Democrat,” Lance said. “I'm very confident and the voters in my district will judge me based upon my record.”

New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins, the first lawmaker to publicly back Trump’s campaign for the presidency, placed blame on Saccone for mounting a weak race.

“I think this was a case of a very strong Democratic candidate, and on a relative basis a much weaker Republican candidate. The fundraising showed that. And at the end of the day, all politics is local and I give the Democrats credit for recruiting someone with a strong background,” Collins said.

Despite the rosy spin, Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who is opting to run for the Senate rather than seek reelection in the House, said House Speaker Paul Ryan told his conference that the results should serve as a wake-up call.

“I think you can't deny that and if you do, you're lying,” Cramer said.

While PA-18 has been in the GOP’s control since 2003, Speaker Ryan also told reporters that Lamb benefited from more registered Democrats in the district.

“There are more Democrats in that district that Republicans and both of these candidates ran as conservatives,” Ryan said. “I just don't think you're going to see that across the country.”

Ryan also emphasized that the race is still too early to concede.

While Republicans are nearly unanimous in their explanation for Lamb’s success, Cramer also blamed the dynamics of midterm elections that swing against the party in control of the White House.

“I think there's lots of factors and I think it'd be wrong to deny that a midterm, and this is while it's a special, it's a midterm, is harder for the party that's in power in the White House,” Cramer said “You've got the natural headwinds of being in power.”

Sources say Lamb’s anticipated victory could send Republicans into a secondary shock wave of retirements, with Pennsylvania Republican Reps. Keith Rothfus and Ryan Costello both anticipating tough re-election bids.

Nevertheless, one moderate Republican in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's crosshairs, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, says the special election’s results won’t discourage his candidacy or shift his strategy.

“I feel the strongest politically that I’ve felt at any point in my time in Congress,” Curbelo, R-Fla., said.

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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  • Guest

    Trump just keeps winning. Moving the country and the Democrats into the pro life, pro fracking, pro growth, pro gun ownership, and anti- Pelosi world.

  • mikevietvet68/69

    they actually have to be the most confused political party in the history of america,they lose another seat and now they claim the winner is one of them.this is the only defense they have and i guess they will stick to it,they truly are a sorry bunch of do-nothings.

  • kritikosman

    Moonwalking and trash-talking piffle.

  • Cagey-B

    “I think Mr. Lamb was brilliant. He ran as a Republican. So, it worked for him. He certainly didn't run as a Democrat,” Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., said.
    ________________________________________________________
    Arrant nonsense.If Kelly actually believes the rubbish he's peddling, the GOP has LOTS worse problems afoot than the Conor Lamb victory. I'd suggest that they man ( and woman ) the lifeboats, the sooner the better (for everyone ).

  • Ronnery Amon

    That's a stretch but hopefully the GOP don't try to pull their own equivalent of 'Russian collusion'. We've just had about enough of the Democrats and media playing the blame game.

  • Anthony

    Yesterday, Republicans said Lamb is a big Pelosi fan. Today, Republicans say Lamb acts like a Republican. Therefore, Republicans are big Pelosi fans.

  • Demon Kojure

    What is the GOP supposed to say? They don't have any choice but to make excuses for their public shaming. And they're delusional anyway.

  • kritikosman

    Moonwalk mode alert!

  • labman57

    Before the election, Trump and the GOP proclaimed that Saccone was a true patriot whose election victory was critical for the party's political agenda, whereas a Lamb victory would be disastrous for America.
    And now ... they're suggesting that Lamb actually is a wolfish Trump backer in sheep's clothing.

    So much spin, even Donnie is feeling a bit dizzier than usual.

  • will Russell

    Since when does the GOP endorse Lamb's positions? Lamb calls the GOP tax plan a give away to the rich, he called for keeping Obamacare, supports legal abortion, protecting medicare and social security, relief for student debt, supports unions, he's for strong environmental enforcement...these are all positions the GOP objects to.

  • kritikosman

    Moon-walking on a cloud of piffle. #GOPdrifting #itiswhatitis #suckituoGOP #ohwell

  • bromeando

    There is NOTHING trumpian or GOP about Lamb, who is Catholic, ran as a moderate Democrat, saying that he personally opposes abortion but supports the right to choose

  • MickC

    "I thought Conor Lamb ran a very good race because he ran on the Trump agenda. He ran totally against his party."
    Really? He ran as a pro-union man. How is that "totally" against the Dems? And note that the Trump agenda has many things Democrats in general support but you won't hear them from Nancy Pelosi and others who need to step down from the poor leadership they've supplied to the Party.

  • FreudianSlipper

    GOP blames Penn loss to the GOP candidate’s “pornstache”. WOW.. desperate much?

  • ctla567

    No doubt Trump and other GOPers would say Saccone is a weak candidate. But if Saccone won Trump would say its him who made Saccone won by spending so much effort in PA campaigning for Saccone. Trump would readily abandon his allies and his voters if he needs to. His morality can only be embraced by some American evangelicals and American wealthy thugs who don't know what morality means.

  • Terry Stein

    If he had lost the election, they'd be saying something else. No surprise here.

  • rayj76

    What???? By this logic shouldn't the GOP candidate who REALLY embraced Trump have won by a landslide?

  • Fermer Votre Bouche

    The GOP need to put on their big boy pants and give full credit to Donald Trump for their loss in PN 18.

  • Primo Veritas

    "I think Mr. Lamb was brilliant. He ran as a Republican. So, it worked for him. He certainly didn't run as a Democrat." And then we have Trump who was a Democrat until he decided to be a Republican. Methinks I hear politicians saying there is no difference in the two parties as long as the candidates win. That is a very scary thought.

  • science_fan

    Maybe people are tired of the cray-cray rhetoric accusing people of hating God, hating their country, and hating Trump like Saccone did.

  • mik8888

    You know, I can remember when politics was more of a friendly rivalry, where things actually got done through negotiation and compromise...

    Let's concentrate on getting back to that way of legislating, and abolish this "crush them, block them" mentality...

  • FreudianSlipper

    Another side note. Trumps first year in office: 34% turnover. Compare to Obama: 9%, Bush 6%, Clinton 11%,

  • Truthful Opinion

    Won't be long before the repubs start running as democrats to save their jobs during the Blue Wave in November.

  • Badger land 2

    I thought the Republican ran as more Trump than Trump? Of course the other excuse has made them look silly too...they had a better candidate. Don't look now, that's kind of the whole idea of this election thingy.

  • 40words

    I'm not a Lindsey Graham (R-SC) supporter, but he was right when he said that there aren't enough angry old white men being produced to keep the GOP in business for much longer.

    The GOP's base has been the hillbilly Archie Bunker crowd for so long that the taint is now permanent. That is their own doing.

  • Furrmin The Cat

    The other guy ran as a conservative and lost.
    This lie has no future just like the other lies the republicans will tell today.

  • KansanJayHawks

    Interesting sidebar. Stormy Daniels attorney said more women have approached him with stories of payoffs.

    As was pointed out earlier today the only way the $130,000 payout was NOT an illegal campaign donation if it can be proven payouts like this were commonplace. This would mean he is guilty of campaign finance laws (a felony) or he has been paying off women for years.

  • Admiral Bob Marshall

    Fine with me if the dems move more to the right. We've drifted too far to the left. The country wants to be centered. Centering would prevent future radical Trumpian expressions by the electorate.

  • Center_Line

    I think the Republicans have played the "Americans are stupid" card one election too long.

  • Fermer Votre Bouche

    This was a referendum on Donald Trump and the Republicans seem to be ignoring the obvious. That will cost them dearly in November.

  • KansanJayHawks

    "Embracing Trump" is a spin that falls flat at first glance. This is nothing like Paul "Toadie" Ryan claims, it is a thorough repudiation of the GOP and the incompetence and criminal Trump.

  • 40words

    If he weren't breathing, flapping his mouth, and able to use his fat little twitter finger...it would be safer to say that Trump is completely brain-dead.