Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) is not waiting for the Supreme Court to officially overturn Roe v. Wade to bluntly ask constituents in her swing district to consider what other rights might be at risk.
She blamed former president Donald Trump — “a president who lost the popular vote,” she noted — and the three conservative justices he appointed, who she said “outright lied during their confirmation hearings” in claiming Roe was settled law.
Wild has spent months avoiding culture-war topics in her moderate district, but her passionate speech at a courthouse rally Tuesday night was reminiscent of 2018, when Trump’s presidency invigorated liberal activists, many of them women. That year, Democrats flipped dozens of seats long held by Republicans — including Wild’s district in eastern Pennsylvania that includes suburban Allentown and Bethlehem.
Wild narrowly won again in 2020, when Joe Biden carried the state, but redistricting added rural Carbon County, which Trump won with 65 percent of the vote, to her district. Many voters also disapprove of the job President Biden and Democrats are doing and are angry about inflation, increased gas prices and supply chain problems. Wild, who defines herself as pro-business Democrat, has carefully tried to explain how her party is attempting to confront these problems and reach voters who aren’t sure which political party to trust.
But as she rallied with sign-holding activists on Tuesday, Wild made clear where she stood on abortion — even if it might upset conservative voters in her district. Two years ago, Wild held a town hall in a rural part of the district and was confronted by attendees who falsely accused her and other Democrats of supporting legislation that would abort full-term fetuses.
Democratic and Republican strategists predict an overhaul of Roe by the Supreme Court this summer could galvanize the Democratic base, which previously has shown little motivation to turn out this November.
“So many people are incredibly angry and motivated to do something right now,” said Sam Bobila, the chief external affairs officer at Planned Parenthood Keystone, who joined Wild at the rally and was struck by the energy of those gathered. “We’re pivoting to now making sure that our supporters are organized, and they’re mobilized, and they’re ready to do a couple of actions that will help us in this fight.”
But even in speaking forcefully about abortion, Wild says she plans to continue focusing on the issues that her constituents ask her about often and that her Republican opponents will continue to attack her on: rising prices, the workforce and the repercussions of supply chain logjams in a largely manufacturing and labor community.
“People in my district aren’t single issue voters, and I’m not a single issue Congresswoman,” Wild said in a statement Friday. “I’m going to continue to fight every day for the people of Pennsylvania’s 7th, on all issues … But you better believe reproductive freedom is going to dominate serious attention in the coming weeks and months, because people’s lives and liberty are on the line. There is nothing I take more seriously.”
Republicans involved with the race say their message against Wild will be different than in 2020, with a heavy focus on inflation, crime and immigration.
“As I travel the district, the number one concern I hear about is the cost of living,” said Lisa Scheller, who was defeated by Wild in 2020 and is running again in the GOP primary on May 17. “The people of the Lehigh Valley are ready for a common-sense conservative who prioritizes good jobs, safe communities and a good standard of living.”
Most of those issues came up at a roundtable Wild held last month in Allentown with 18 manufacturing executives who want to create more avenues for young people to be trained in textiles without the need to seek a college education, a cause Wild has championed while serving on the House Education & Labor Committee. But several executives told her they were also worried about the skyrocketing price of oil, steel and other products that have caused major delays in completing projects, making them lose business.
Wild listened, listed bills she has introduced to combat the supply chain problem and stressed her belief that government should have a respectful relationship with businesses, conducting oversight when necessary. She made exuberantly clear that she is not a member of her party’s liberal wing that is often more visible and vocal.
“The New Democrat Coalition that I’m a part of is not particularly a favorite of the far left,” she said, referencing the moderate, pro-business caucus. “When I first joined the New Dems, I got a fair amount of flak for that because they don’t particularly like that pro-business mentality. My answer is: Well, if you’re not going to be pro-business, then where are you going to get all these jobs people need?”
Several executives noted that their workforce has been depleted and suggested that refugees willing to work in labor-intensive jobs should be given appropriate visas, a process that was restricted under Trump.
“The sad part is we’re not talking about employing the people already here,” one female executive quipped.
“But the reality is we don’t have enough workers,” another responded.
Wild echoed the sentiment, noting that the declining birthrate in the United States and the lack of people returning to the workforce after the pandemic created a labor shortage.
“There are plenty of people from countries who want to come work, but we’re not doing anything to attract those people,” Wild said.
“That’s right,” another executive responded.
Forty-seven minutes in, Wild mentioned Biden for the first time, noting his decision to accept Ukrainian refugees, all of whom she said could bolster the workforce through proper visas.
At another event with local leaders later that evening, Portland, Pa., Mayor Heather Fischer asked Wild how to address misguided concerns from constituents that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) would soon send buses packed with undocumented immigrants to the Lehigh Valley after doing it to D.C. (Abbott only sent two charter buses to the nation’s capital before facing a backlash, including from his own party, for misappropriating taxpayer funds.)
“I’m really glad you asked that question,” Wild said, before explaining that that’s not going to happen. She noted that planes carrying undocumented children do arrive at the Lehigh Valley airport because it’s cheaper to land there than at a New York City-area airport, where the children are eventually transported.
In an interview, Fischer, who began leading a more conservative borough in Wild’s district this year, said she appreciated how accessible the congresswoman was even though she wished there were more concrete answers to the problems affecting her community.
“It feels like it’s all happening at one time,” she said. “There’s not a lot of positives going on, but it’s nice to see Susan Wild come out and talk about it. There’s the positive there, but it’s a lot to take in for small communities.”
It’s likely Wild will face off against Scheller, her former Republican opponent who benefits from name recognition after seeking the seat in 2020 and has raised 10 times more than her current primary opponent, Kevin Dellicker, according to federal disclosures.
During a GOP primary debate last month, Scheller expressed openness to criminalizing abortions except in cases where a mother’s life is at risk. She also said she did not support banning abortion pills, which are prescribed to induce a miscarriage in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Dellicker said he would support both.
Scheller’s approach is one that some Republican strategists say could make her more palatable in an evenly split district filled with former GOP voters who became independents after Trump took control of the party. They point to Wild’s 2020 victory margin, which was more than six points lower than in 2018, and the fact that she held only a four-point lead over Scheller at a time when Biden was more popular.
While the addition of Carbon County may skew the district more conservative, these strategists say, the midterm election winner will probably be determined by voter enthusiasm and turnout in the suburban neighborhoods that anchor the Lehigh Valley.
Voters like Paul Montgomery, 60, are waiting until after the primary to begin weighing who to pick. A former Republican who registered as an independent in 2020 after being turned off by Trump, he remains frustrated about inflation but does not regret his vote for Biden, largely blaming Republicans in the Senate for stalling legislation that could alleviate economic problems.
“I don’t understand where they’re going with their social agenda, he said about pro-Trump Republicans running for office, outside an Allentown Wegmans grocery store last month. “As far as their economic agenda, it seems like it’s just stalling Democrats at every phase.”
Kathy Garza, 72, echoed some sympathy for Biden, saying that most of the issues he faces are “not really his fault.” She continues to identify as a Republican, having voted neither for Biden nor Trump, but acknowledged many like her in suburban Lehigh Valley are turned off by candidates who embrace Trump’s style and act as obstructionists in Congress.
She likes Wild and acknowledged that not hearing much about her in the news is actually a good thing.
“That’s what I like,” Garza, who is retired, said outside of a Wawa gas station. “I think she votes with her head and not her heart, and that’s important.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee has painted Wild as a liberal parading back home as a moderate, often pointing to her 100 percent voting record with Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this congressional term. (She broke with Pelosi on one vote — the Heroes Act — during her first term). It’s an attack Scheller has already used in campaign ads that labels Wild as helping to push a “radical agenda.”
But Wild and her team are confident voters will see through the attempts to categorize her as a staunch liberal, citing her accessibility and close ties to constituents who often call or text her personal cellphone — which, they argue, is the ultimate way to mobilize voters.
“I think people either turn out to vote or don’t turn out to vote based on whether they feel like they have something to vote for, and I am pretty confident my district feels like they have something to vote for,” she said.