More than two years later, Lamb has emerged as a prominent surrogate for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, stumping for him this year during the primaries.
This transformation is a testament to both Lamb’s own standing in what was expected to be a highly contested reelection and the Biden effect throughout Pennsylvania, where the former vice president was born and raised.
All of which played into Lamb’s decision to fully embrace the top of the ticket, including a video appearance at the Democratic National Convention last month and urging constituents in his critical western Pennsylvania district to turn out for Biden.
“I think in a presidential year, people were always going to want to know who I supported and why, especially before the Democratic nominee was chosen,” Lamb said Tuesday during an interview outside the Capitol. “I just felt like I might as well do the best I could to try to have influence on our nominee being the person who’s best for western Pennsylvania.”
Lamb and Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D) both sit in districts that Trump won in 2016, while Rep. Susan Wild (D), a member of the 2018 class, holds a seat in the Lehigh Valley that Trump narrowly lost. Yet all three are in better shape for their reelection bids than anticipated a year ago, as Democrats launched what seemed like a politically dangerous impeachment of Trump.
Instead, if anything, Republicans are on defense in the Keystone State. Rep. Scott Perry, an ardent Trump supporter, is fighting in a pure toss-up race around Harrisburg and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, running as a moderate opponent of many Trump agenda items, has a lead for now in a suburban district that Biden could win by large margins.
By the time the new Congress is sworn in, Democrats could hold a majority of Pennsylvania’s House seats for the first time since 2010, after spending most of the past decade with just five of the 18 seats.
Part of those gains came through a court-ordered redistricting in 2018, which took newly elected Lamb from a Trump-centric seat in the state’s far southwest and into a more suburban area that the president won by 2.6 percentage points.
Now, with polls showing Biden in a steady lead, Pennsylvania Democrats are linking themselves to the nominee and closely coordinating their efforts to get out the vote, even during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s a very coordinated campaign between the state races and the top of the ticket, including my race. And so, yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about all being on the same page,” Wild said Tuesday outside the Capitol.
Wild emphasized that her opponent, business executive Lisa Scheller, is self-funding her race and that she expects it to remain close, needing to appeal to moderate Republicans and independents.
Aside from Fitzpatrick, Republicans are tripling down on tying themselves to Trump’s candidacy in Pennsylvania, hopeful that he will pull off an upset like the one four years ago, helping bring them along to victory.
“With four more years, imagine what we can achieve by simply working with our president. I believe in our president’s vision for the future. I stand here tonight, calling on all Americans to join us,” Sean Parnell, a retired Army captain who was awarded the Bronze Star during the war in Afghanistan, said during a Republican National Convention speech.
Parnell, 41, initially presented as a great counter to Lamb, 36, who served in the Marines before a stint as a federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh.
With less than 50 days till the election, Parnell has proven to be a good fundraiser through his appearances on Fox News and the convention speech, drawing crowds of Trump supporters. Yet national Republican groups have clear doubts about his candidacy and have not booked ads to benefit his campaign, according to strategists in both parties.
Parnell has dabbled in bizarre conspiracy theories, including a recent suggestion that Lamb served as a source for leaks about Trump’s refusal to attend a military service in France in 2018 — leaks that clearly could only come from the president’s inner circle.
When Parnell does go on the offensive, he’s usually trying to tie Lamb to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or other far-left liberals, not Biden.
Lamb’s support for Biden has not hurt, and, if private polling is accurate, suggesting the Democrat will top Trump there, it could be a net benefit.
The Biden-Lamb bond began through Mike Donilon, a longtime Biden adviser who worked for Lamb during the 2018 special election. Just days before that election, Biden became the only national Democrat to appear with Lamb, who by that point had promised not to vote for Pelosi and called for a generational change in leadership.
Biden, who has made Pittsburgh his annual Labor Day stop for years, appeared in a carpenter’s hall packed with union members and paid Lamb the ultimate compliment. “He reminds me of my son Beau,” Biden said, referencing Beau Biden, who served in Iraq in the Army and worked as a state prosecutor before his death in 2015.
And Lamb saw something that doesn’t usually show up in stories about the lifelong politician, a passionate response to Biden’s appeal to many voters who cast 2016 ballots for Trump.
“He didn’t just come in and pass the test. He had these people standing up straight, cheering at the top of their lungs, chest out, feeling proud to support him. That told me that there was an emotional connection there,” Lamb said.
In the new, more suburban district, Lamb defeated a GOP incumbent by nearly 13 percentage points in November 2018. As the presidential campaign unfolded, he was always in the Biden camp but his formal endorsement was saved until early January, along with other House Democrats from swing districts to try to demonstrate electability.
The idea was that other candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), represented risky bets with swing voters in key states.
“You can imagine a scenario where we had chosen somebody else as our nominee, and they’re talking about these much more far-reaching, restructuring-of-society ideas that are just distant from the lived experience of people,” Lamb said.
In January he said he expects to stick to his previous call for “new leadership” and vote for someone from a different generation than Pelosi, 80, but he has no qualms supporting Biden, 77, for president.
“We need the person who’s best able to beat President Trump,” Lamb said.