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Source: US National Republican Congressional Committee

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I couldn’t have said this any better myself.

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Sean Parnell for Congress

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board


The race for Congress in the 17th District is billed as a nationalized race testing the 2020 strength of Donald Trump in a district he won big four years ago.

It is that. If Mr. Trump carries the district this year, Republican candidate Sean Parnell will likely win the seat.

If former Vice President Joe Biden carries the district, incumbent Conor Lamb will probably retain the seat.

And that makes some sense. If you really want Mr. Trump to win, you want him to have some help.

If you deeply want Mr. Biden to win, you want to keep a Democratic House and Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

But what if you are an independent voter who wants a congressman who is at least somewhat independent and will “vote the district,” putting its needs, character and people ahead of party or ideology?

There are a lot of those independent and independent-leaning voters in the 17th, which is why liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats have long been popular in these parts. Western Pennsylvanians like moderates and centrists and people who are willing to break party ranks to compromise and get things done.

Well, there isn’t much room for compromise in the U.S. House these days. Moderate Republicans have been going over the wall. And conservative or moderate Democrats are few and far between. But there are a few. The question is: Is Conor Lamb one of them?

Is Conor Lamb a moderate?

That’s clearly what the district wants, because that’s how Mr. Lamb presented himself in 2016 and has again in 2020. He famously promised not to vote for Ms. Pelosi as speaker. He didn’t. But neither did he vote against her. That is Mr. Lamb in a nutshell. He’s smart, he’s clever, he’s a smooth politician. But is he authentic?

This race is also about authenticity and fit for the district.

Did voters in the 17th who voted for a moderate and independent Democrat, and Mr. Trump, expect Mr. Lamb to vote for impeachment?

They might have expected Mr. Lamb to at least be a bit troubled by the failure of his party to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election and the determination of some to find any reason to impeach the president, even if he also thought the president finally gave them one.

On the impeachment issue, and virtually every other, Mr. Lamb has been in lockstep with his speaker and his party caucus. He has shown almost no independence, distance or skepticism. Labeling himself a moderate was smart marketing, but not much more than that.

Would Mr. Parnell be more of a maverick? Would he buck his caucus for the sake of his district, at least from time to time?

It’s not clear. He would be a freshman, just as Mr. Lamb is a backbencher now. To be fair to Mr. Lamb, even a star can’t get much done in the first two years on the Hill. And Mr. Parnell would likely also be in the minority.

But we know this about Sean Parnell: He is a warrior, he is fearless, a genuine war hero who had to win battles when he was greatly outnumbered. When you have had to fight, as an infantryman, for your life and the lives of your men, you are probably not going to quake at a House committee chair or whip.

And he has no interest in being a career politician. “I actually hate politics,” he says.

Mr. Lamb was bred for politics. He is controlled and smooth, measured and practiced. He looks every inch the part and could play the politician in a movie. A seat in Congress, and maybe the Senate, has been his destiny in the mind of family and friends, and maybe his own mind, since youth.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of that. We need political pros in Washington. And Mr. Lamb is also a patriot who, like Mr. Parnell, has served our nation in the military.

But Washington desperately needs the maverick within the party, the moderate in the middle, the congressman who cares more for the least well-off person in his district than the party guru, or the well-connected lobbyist, or the next office. It desperately needs the servant citizen who comes to Washington for a few years and goes home, because he wants to.

Sean Parnell, who is as open and direct as Mr. Lamb is contained, hates politics. He loves the country and is coming to love the 17th District. The district should vote for independent representation and give him the chance to serve.

First Published October 27, 2020, 12:00am