Republicans are panicking after a Democrat just cleaned up in a deep-red district -- and the results should 'terrify' them

  • Republicans are increasingly concerned about the 2018 landscape after Democrat Conor Lamb appeared to pull off an unlikely win in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District.
  • The race was officially still too close to call, but Lamb declared victory over Republican Rick Saccone.
  • It came in a district where President Donald Trump won by about 20 points in 2016.
  • "No suburban district is safe and every candidate better be ready for the most difficult cycle of their career," one Republican strategist close to the race told Business Insider.


Republicans are panicked after Democrat Conor Lamb closed in on a victory over Republican Rick Saccone in a Pennsylvania congressional district that went for President Donald Trump by 20 points in 2016.

That Lamb could perform so well in a district that overwhelmingly supported Trump and had sent a Republican to Congress without much contention for the better part of two decades signaled major challenges for the party as it seeks to maintain its congressional majorities in this year's midterm elections.

'No suburban district is safe and every candidate better be ready for the most difficult cycle of their career'

"It's really hard to see how anyone looks at the factors Republicans are facing at this time, and the environment Republicans are in, and conclude anything other than that we are heading for a very difficult cycle," a Republican strategist close to the race told Business Insider.

"The narrow margin in a district the president won handily should be a serious wake up call for Republican incumbents across the map," the person added late Tuesday night. "No suburban district is safe and every candidate better be ready for the most difficult cycle of their career."

There are roughly 120 House seats currently controlled by Republicans in districts that are not as solidly Republican as Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District.

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Pennsylvania special election -- Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone
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Pennsylvania special election -- Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden attends a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb (C) Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb talks with supporters at a rally Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Surrounded by campaign volunteers, Rick Saccone, Republican Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, takes questions form reporters at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: A cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump sits against the wall after Rick Saccone, Republican Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, spoke to reporters at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: (L to R) Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, and USW International President Leo Gerardand gesture together after Lamb spoke at a rally at the United Steelworkers Building, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Campaign volunteers await the arrival of Rick Saccone, Republican Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania's 18th district, at the Republican Committee of Allegheny County offices, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Democratic candidate Conor Lamb. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania� 18th district, speaks at a rally at the United Steelworkers Building, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, PA - JANUARY 13: Members of the audience listen to Democrat Conor Lamb, a former U.S. attorney and US Marine Corps veteran running to represent Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, at the American Legion Post 902 on January 13, 2018 in Houston, Pennsylvania in the southwestern corner of the state. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District next week in a bid to help Lamb's republican opponent, Rick Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden visited Pittsburgh in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
A man watches U.S. President Donald Trump speak in support of Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 6: Union carpenters wait to hear former Vice President Joe Biden speak in support of Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb Tuesday March 6, 2018 at the Union Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Rick Saccone. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with special election Republican candidate Rick Saccone upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: A supporter wears a sticker in support of Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania� 18th district, at a rally at the United Steelworkers Building, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Rob and Carolyn Trozzi of Waynesburg pose with a Trump t-shirt after listening to Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone speak with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Vincent Fusca places a campaign sign on his truck for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone before the candidate met with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone meets with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, PA - JANUARY 13: Democrat Conor Lamb, a former U.S. attorney and US Marine Corps veteran running to represent Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, before a speech to an audience at the American Legion Post 902 on January 13, 2018 in Houston, Pennsylvania in the southwestern corner of the state. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District next week in a bid to help Lamb's republican opponent, Rick Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Conor Lamb (L), the Democratic candidate in the special US congressional election in Pennsylvania's 18th District to be held March 13, 2018, greets a supporter (C) and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (R) during a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Friday, March 9, 2018. US President Donald Trump won the district comfortably in the 2016 presidential race, but Lamb is running neck and neck with his Republican opponent Rick Saccone. / AFP PHOTO / Michael Mathes (Photo credit should read MICHAEL MATHES/AFP/Getty Images)
WAYNESBURG, PA - MARCH 5: A volunteer places campaign signs for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone before he spoke with supporters at the VFW Post 4793 while campaigning on March 5, 2018 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Saccone is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Conor Lamb. President Donald Trump plans to visit Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District March 10, 2018 in a bid to help Saccone. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: A sign in support of Conor Lamb, Democratic Congressional candidate for Pennsylvania� 18th district, hangs in the lobby of the United Steelworkers Building before a rally for Lamb, March 9, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Lamb is running in a tight race for the vacated seat of Congressman Tim Murphy against Republican candidate Rick Saccone. President Trump will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally with Saccone. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
MOON TOWNSHIP, PA - MARCH 10: President Donald J. Trump speaks to supporters at the Atlantic Aviation Hanger on March 10, 2018 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. The president made a visit in a bid to gain support for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone who is running for 18th Congressional District in a seat vacated by Tim Murphy. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump supporters attends the Make America Great Again Rally on March 10, 2018 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. President Trump travelled to Pennsylvania to speak at a ' Make America Great Again ' rally on behalf of Republican candidate Rick Saccone. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Lamb's results came on the heels of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones' shocking win in Alabama and big wins for the party in New Jersey and Virginia late last year. As of 12:30 a.m. on the East Coast, Lamb led Saccone by a slim margin of just more than 500 votes with only some absentee ballots outstanding. Lamb declared victory, and Democratic campaign groups followed suit.

'Wake-up call'

Lamb, a former Marine and federal prosecutor, ran a more centrist campaign, splitting with party leadership at times. He was, however, vehemently opposed to the Republican tax bill, supported the Affordable Care Act, and spoke out against cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Saccone, meanwhile, pitched himself as "Trump before Trump" and sought to tie himself closely to the president and his agenda, which remain decently popular in the district.

The election was big for a couple of major Trump policies. It was the first big election since Republicans passedtheir major tax overhaul. Democrats took the election results as a victory in their battle against the legislation.

"In this overwhelmingly Trump district, Republicans put all their eggs in the basket of Trump's tax plan," Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist who formerly worked for the DCCC 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, told Business Insider. "And the basket broke. If you can't hold onto a district that is this Republican after spending $10 million promoting your tax plan, it's not just that the tax plan failed to sell, it's that it backfired."

At the same time, Trump reportedly pitched his steel and aluminum tariffs with an eye on the race, hoping they could help prop up Saccone. But polling showed the tariffs did little to swing votes.

Republicans were additionally concerned that Lamb provided a blue print for Democrats in a number of competitive races heading into the 2018 midterms, which increasingly look as if they will be a challenging landscape for GOP House and Senate candidates. Traditionally, the first midterm elections under a new president go for the party out of the White House.

"It should serve as a wake-up call to everybody," one Republican strategist said of the race.

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