After a near upset in 2022, Kevin Dellicker again focuses on China and the economy for his PA-7 race
BETHLEHEM, Pa. — As Kevin Dellicker tells it, he would prefer not to be challenging Rep. Susan Wild for control of one of the country's most contested congressional districts in next year's election.
Nevertheless, the Heidelberg Township resident is throwing himself back into the meatgrinder of American politics. This moment in US history demands leaders capable of reining in spending, confronting a growing China and invigorating an economy beset by inflation, he said. It requires what he called "citizen legislators" — people more concerned about getting the job done than about a lengthy career in the halls of Washington.
"I couldn't find somebody like that that was willing to run in this cycle," said Dellicker, a small business owner and intelligence officer with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. "So I decided to run again."
- Congressional candidate Kevin Dellicker is campaigning to cut spending in Washington, support more stringent abortion laws at the federal level and shift the U.S. to a tougher stance against China
- Dellicker will likely find himself in a crowded Republican primary for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District next year
- Whoever wins the Republican nomination will likely face Democratic incumbent Susan Wild for one of the country's most contested U.S. House seats
The last time he ran for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, he nearly bested heavy favorite Lisa Scheller in the GOP primary. Scheller was a past Republican congressional nominee who lowered taxes as a Lehigh County commissioner, and had far better name recognition than Dellicker, then a first-time candidate. As the CEO of an international corporation that manufactures pigments, she wrote checks for her campaign that dwarfed Dellicker's fundraising ability.
But Dellicker nearly overcame all that with a grassroots campaign that ran to her right on abortion and attacked her business dealings in China. The Chinese government has prospered from American business investments while actively working to dislodge the U.S. as the world's dominant superpower, Dellicker said at the time. Scheller's practice of cutting jobs in her American factories while building new facilities in China was harming national security and removing good paying jobs from the district, he said.
Dellicker lost the 2022 primary by 3 points despite carrying both Carbon and Lehigh counties. He quietly bowed out of the race, but his campaign left a mark. Democrats quickly lobbed their own attacks linking Scheller to China, and Wild pulled out a 2-point victory that November.
Dellicker insisted last week his criticisms of Scheller were more than just the typical trading of political barbs. For decades, U.S. policy makers viewed economic support of China as a win-win. The theory was by encouraging American businesses to do business in China, it would open markets to the U.S. and lead to economic and personal freedoms in China, Dellicker said.
But he said that theory no longer holds water. Chinese President Xi Jinping has limited the personal freedoms of the Chinese people and used his country's increasing wealth to bolster the military, particularly in the South China Sea, Dellicker said. At the same time, the U.S. economy has become reliant on Chinese factories from everything from semiconductors to iPhones. If U.S. leaders maintain the status quo and continue doing business with China, its economic and military strength will fully catch up to America's. There's a limited window to shift course, he said.
"We can deter China with a strong military and diplomatic response," Dellicker said. "We can change China's behavior based on our behavior, but what we cannot keep doing is investing in their success when their whole point is to counter American influence."
On the homefront
Dellicker was quick to point out problems with domestic policy, too. He chided Wild for her support of big government spending, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. He pinned America's historically high inflation on congressional Democrats and the Biden administration, saying the economy was too fragile from the pandemic to support the spending spree. Some of that spending, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, he said, hasn't accomplished its intended goal.
"I think I'm best positioned to win the primary, but I also think I'm also best positioned to compete against Susan Wild."Lehigh Valley congressional candidate Kevin Dellicker
Most of that bill is earmarked for upgrading highways, bridges and other transportation infrastructure. But Congress set aside $65 billion of it to upgrade broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. Dellicker, who runs a technology consulting firm that advises school districts, questioned whether anyone believes their internet access is better today than before the vote nearly two years ago. All its done is tie down money behind regulations, he said.
"I'd argue that I did more for rural broadband in the private sector during the past year than she did as our congresswoman," Dellicker said.
That perspective should sound familiar to those who followed Dellicker's campaign two years ago. His platform remains virtually unchanged, including his support for stronger federal limits on abortion. During the 2022 Republican primary — before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade — Dellicker called for a human life amendment to the Constitution that would have tossed out the historic ruling.
If elected in 2024, Dellicker said he would support federal restrictions that mirror Pennsylvania's abortion access such as mandating a 24-hour waiting period, requiring minors to receive parental consent and barring third trimester abortions. He said Wild's willingness to allow late-term abortions is extreme and not in keeping with the sensibilities of Pennsylvania voters. At the same time, he acknowledged that he would support banning abortion earlier as medical science advanced.
"I think the majority of people don't like the idea of abortions once the baby is viable outside the womb, even if they are pro-choice. With new technology, it is possible that a baby born earlier than into the third trimester could survive," he said.
Currently, the general medical consensus is that a baby can be viable outside the womb after about 24 weeks. This roughly aligns with Pennsylvania's cutoff for abortions at week 23 outside of medical emergencies.
Early primary field
It remains to be seen whether Dellicker will get to directly face off against Wild. While he's currently the only Republican publicly discussing his campaign, PA-7's GOP field is expected to grow. Maria Montero, a member of former Gov. Tom Corbett's administration, declared her candidacy by filing with the Federal Election Commission. However, she has not returned requests for comment or launched any online presence for her campaign. Republican sources in Lehigh County also say state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie is eying a congressional run. He briefly ran for Lehigh County's congressional seat in 2018 but withdrew after the state Supreme Court redrew the district map.
Whoever wins the Republican nomination will have to defeat Wild, the Democratic incumbent who has twice defended one of the most coveted districts in America. PA-7 is nearly evenly divided between registered Republican and Democratic voters, and political observers such as FiveThirtyEight and the Cook Political Report have labeled PA-7 as one of the few toss-up districts in the country. The two major parties and the candidates spent a combined $24 million on the 2022 campaign, making it one of the most expensive House races in the country. The parties have already committed to waging another expensive battle next year.
It's a challenge Dellicker said he's up for. He's spent the past few months strengthening his donor network and intends to build a more effective online presence than last year's campaign, he said. Between his business and military backgrounds and the name recognition he's generated since his last campaign, Dellicker sees himself as the Republican front runner.
"I think I'm best positioned to win the primary, but I also think I'm also best positioned to compete against Susan Wild," he said.