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GOP shrugs off Pennsylvania special election results

Republicans deflect concern special election signals electoral wave this fall.

March 14, 2018, 1:10 PM

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.

“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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