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Lehigh Valley Election News

Mackenzie, Wild trade jabs as volume turns up on PA-7 congressional race

Mackenzie and Wild.png
File Photo
Pennsylvania 7th Congressional District candidates Rep. Ryan Mackenzie (left) and U.S. Rep Susan Wild (right). Photo of Wild courtesy of Associated Press.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — U.S. Rep. Susan Wild's campaign doubled down on its criticism of U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson on Thursday after her Republican challenger demanded she apologize for questioning his commitment to supporting first responders.

The political jabs are the latest example of the pointed race emerging in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District between Wild, the Democratic incumbent, and state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, the GOP nominee.

The seat, which Wild has controlled since 2018, is among the most competitive in the nation. Both parties have pledged to commit energy and resources to winning it this November in a bid to set the agenda in Congress for the next two years.

Mackenzie demanded an apology from Wild's camp Wednesday night after she questioned Johnson's sincerity after he offered a token of support to the Cetronia Ambulance Corps in a visit to the Lehigh Valley.

Mackenzie and Johnson, R-Louisiana, dropped off coffee and donuts for first responders following a fundraiser for Mackenzie; Johnson is the son of a firefighter who was severely injured while responding to a call.

"Given the nature of this race — as likely competitive as it is — you take nothing for granted and you go after your opponent on what you perceive as a weakness."
Christopher Borick, Muhlenberg College professor of political science

During the visit, Johnson spoke about his childhood dream of serving as chief of the Shreveport (Louisiana) Fire Department and how that changed after his father's injury.

"Not everyone appreciates the work you do, but we do," Johnson told the assembled EMTs Tuesday during his brief visit.

Shortly after Johnson left for Washington, D.C., the Wild campaign issued a news release promoting her record of securing federal funding for Lehigh Valley firefighters, hospitals and law enforcement — and questioning the Republicans' commitment to first responders.

"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," campaign spokeswoman Natalie Gould said in a brief statement Tuesday.

A day later, the Mackenzie campaign painted the remarks as another foot-in-mouth moment by Wild. It noted she had to apologize to Carbon County voters after she expressed dismay that the Republican-leaning county was added to her district following the 2020 census — Mackenzie said at the time he could not think of a more offensive statement.

Wild shouldn't be in the business of disparaging the families of those who put their lives on the line, Mackenzie's Wednesday release read.

"She should be ashamed of the offensive comments put out by her campaign, and she should immediately retract her statement and apologize,” Mackenzie said in a seven-paragraph prepared statement.

But Wild's team doubled down on their remarks Thursday, pointing to Johnson's voting record since taking office in 2017. In contrast, the Wild campaign highlighted in its Tuesday comment federal funding Wild has secured for local law enforcement agencies, hospitals and firefighters.

"While Congresswoman Wild has delivered time and time again for first responders, Mike Johnson has voted to cut the federal budget for law enforcement by 30%, voted against providing our veterans care in the PACT Act, and won’t even consider a bill to help the border patrol. It’s clear what Mackenzie's agenda will be in Washington,” Gould said Thursday.

A hyper-competitive district

The exchange captures one of the early dustups between the two candidates in what could prove to be a heated campaign.

Christopher Borick, a Muhlenberg College political science professor, said Mackenzie's campaign has ratcheted up the attacks on Wild compared to former Republican nominee Lisa Scheller, who narrowly lost races in 2020 and 2022.

In her campaigns, Scheller didn't shy away from casting Wild as an extreme liberal unfit to represent the Lehigh Valley. Mackenzie has picked up where Scheller left off, attacking her for voting against GOP-favored border security packages and blaming her and fellow Democrats for inflation.

But Borick said the tenor has changed as the Mackenzie campaign has looked to capitalize on potential 'gotcha' moments.

Mackenzie followed that strategy in the Republican primary as well. When little-known college student Allen Issa dropped out of the Republican primary and endorsed Maria Montero in February, the Mackenzie campaign accused him of trading the endorsement for a potential job.

While he wasn't sure if the Lehigh Valley's moderate voter base would stomach a hyper-aggressive campaign long-term, Borick said that Mackenzie faces little downside for it now when voters aren't focused on the November election.

"Given the nature of this race — as likely competitive as it is — you take nothing for granted and you go after your opponent on what you perceive as a weakness," Borick said.

Mackenzie, a 12-year veteran of Harrisburg, and Wild, Allentown's former solicitor, and their backers will likely continue to exchange barbs in the months ahead.

The Democratic and Republican parties and their allies dropped $34.5 million in their 2022 campaign for PA-7 — one of the most expensive in the nation. This year, the parties are already dropping mountains of cash in the district.

Before the primary, the congressional candidates had spent$1.6 million on their campaigns, most of it by Wild. That amount doesn't include more than $400,000 a super PAC supporting Mackenzie spent to help him in the Republican primary.

In addition, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC endorsed by Johnson, announced Wednesday it will spend $5.4 million on ads in the Philadelphia television market, which includes the Lehigh Valley.