Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Lehigh Valley Election News

House Speaker Mike Johnson campaigns for Mackenzie in PA-7 hotbed

Johnson Mackenzie Mateff Cetronia.jpg
Tom Shortell
Cetronia Ambulance Corps Executive Director Bob Mateff, left, sits down with U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Lehigh Valley congressional Ryan Mackenzie inside an ambulance on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. — U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson swung through the Cetronia Ambulance Corps on Tuesday morning as part of a wider tour meant to promote Lehigh Valley congressional candidate Ryan Mackenzie ahead of the November election.

Bearing a box of Wawa coffee and Dunkin' donuts, the two Republicans briefly met with EMTs and media members before Johnson left for Washington, D.C.

Johnson, whose firefighter father was seriously injured in an explosion while responding to a call, said he wanted to show his support to first responders during national EMS Week.

"Not everyone appreciates the work you do, but we do," Johnson, R-Louisiana, told the assembled first responders.

Pa. candidates

The stop at Cetronia came after Johnson stumped for Mackenzie — a state representative based in Lehigh County — at a donor breakfast and toured a local ULine distribution center, Mackenzie said.

Johnson's Lehigh Valley appearances came as part of a two-day visit to Pennsylvania where he campaigned for state Rep. Rob Mercuri, the Republican running for Pennsylvania's 17th Congressional District, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa.

Johnson predicted Republicans would retain control of the House while winning back the Senate and Oval Office.

"We're going to flip some seats back to Republican hands, and this one will be as well. We are really excited about Ryan's campaign," Johnson said, giving Mackenzie a light punch in the arm. "We can't wait to have him join us in Congress."

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Lehigh Valley, is in her third term in Congress.

Johnson's brief stop left Cetronia staff with little time to interact with him, but Executive Director Bob Mateff said he tried to make the most of their conversation.

Mateff said he stressed the importance of updating Medicare reimbursement rates while chatting with Johnson and Mackenzie inside an ambulance.

"We need some reforms that will help us be sustainable and continue giving good services to our communities," Mateff said.

Congressional leadership

Mackenzie said that, if elected, and if Republicans keep their House majority, he would support Johnson retaining his gavel.

Johnson earned the speaker's chair in the House after a revolt from the Republican Party's right wing forced out former Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October. Many of those same Republicans nearly ousted Johnson earlier this month, but most Democrats — including Wild — opted to save him.

That challenge to Johnson's job came after he pushed through a massive funding package that included $95 billion for foreign aid, including money for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. Mackenzie has opposed providing additional funding to Ukraine on the campaign trail, but he downplayed their divide while refocusing his sights on his November opponent.

"Our party may have small difference of opinions on certain issues. We have very stark differences when it comes to me versus Susan Wild," Mackenzie said, attacking her for her votes on securing the southern border and Biden-era spending packages. "This race is between me and Susan Wild. That contrast couldn't be any more clear."

In a news release after the event, Wild's campaign tried to highlight some other differences between her and Mackenzie.

“Mike Johnson and Ryan Mackenzie are touting their supposed ‘support’ of emergency services while trying to hide from their record of wanting to gut Social Security and involve the government in your personal health care decisions," a campaign spokeswoman said in a prepared statement.

Swing county, swing state

Political observers have recognized Pennsylvania as a critical swing state in races for president and control of Congress. Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, which includes all of Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties, is one of the country's most competitive U.S. House races with near equal numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats.

Wild won the district by a little over 3.7 percentage points in 2020 and just under 2 percentage points in 2022.

With control of the House narrowly divided, both major parties have pledged to invest time and resources into winning the district in recent years. Last cycle, VIPs such as first lady Jill Biden, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and then-House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., visited the district to support their candidates.