WHYY: Lehigh Valley congressional race in play for control of the House

10/22/2018

Following Pennsylvania’s recent redistricting and the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, the Lehigh Valley has become a crucial battleground in the fight to control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Three candidates, Democrat Susan Wild, Republican Marty Nothstein, and Libertarian Tim Silfies are contending for the open seat that covers Lehigh, Northampton, and the southernmost part of Monroe counties.

‘A woman belongs in the House …’

On a recent Tuesday night, at a campaign field office in Bethlehem, about a dozen teachers joined a discussion about the challenges they face as educators in Lehigh Valley schools. Standardized testing, trauma-informed therapy, arming teachers, and pensions were all hot button topics debated around the table.

At the center of the conversation was Susan Wild, the Democrat running for the 7th district seat.

“One of the things I think about for all of you teachers is the incredible emotional burden you must take home with you,” Wild said.

She told the teachers that education is one of her top priorities along with health care, campaign finance reform, jobs, and infrastructure.

Wild, an attorney and former Allentown city solicitor, said she became interested in running for congress to help her children and future generations. But as her campaign kicked into gear, she began to notice more people in the district who were struggling to pay their bills while working more than one job.

“I feel as though government has left behind the middle class,” Wild said.

Born in Germany on an air force base, Wild grew up as a self-described military brat. She lived in France, California, New Mexico, and in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

When Wild and her husband decided it was time to put down roots and raise a family, they settled in the Lehigh Valley.

At her campaign field office, hand-written posters decorated the walls with slogans like, “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate” and “Go Wild and fight for families.”

In one section was a kid’s corner with rugs, alphabet blocks, coloring books, and dinosaur magazines. In another, a group of campaign staffers huddled around their computers and spreadsheets with a stash of snacks nearby.

Although she’s never held elected office, Wild squeaked by in a crowded primary with only about 1,500 votes.

Now she is considered the front-runner, leading her opponents — Republican Marty Nothstein and Libertarian Tim Silfies — in polls and in campaign cash. By the end of September, she had raised $1.5 million more than both Nothstein and Silfies combined. Outside political groups have also spent more than $1.3 million opposing Nothstein.

Wild’s campaign also got a boost from Pennsylvania’s new congressional district map.

Earlier this year, when the state Supreme Court declared Pennsylvania’s congressional districts unconstitutional and put a new map in place, analysts said it changed the political balance to be more favorable to Democrats.

Through her decades-long experience as a lawyer, Wild says she’s honed her skills of compromise and negotiation, something she thinks is desperately needed in Washington.

“For years now taxpayers are essentially paying for a bunch of people to be in Congress who can’t seem to move anything forward because they refuse to meet in the middle,” Wild said. “The one thing I’ve learned is that in order to bring about successful resolutions, both sides have to feel like they’ve won something.”

On the night of the teacher’s roundtable, John Gackenbach, a special educator in Allentown, came to the field office undecided. He didn’t know much about Wild, and wanted to learn more about the candidate.

“Tonight, I walk away with that she really has our best interest for education and teacher stability and providing what the schools need for everyone to be successful,” Gackenbach said.

At the end of the night, Gackenbach left with two Susan Wild lawn signs, one for himself and one for his neighbor.

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Read the full article online at WHYY. 

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