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Trump sides with Scheller for GOP congressional nomination

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the of workers Silberline employs.

A presidential tweet last week left no doubt about whom Donald Trump is supporting in the Republican primary for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 7th District. It’s Lisa Scheller over Dean Browning.

The tweet was one of a number he posted showing support for candidates as the primary approaches next Tuesday. The primary originally had been scheduled for April 28 but was pushed back by stay-at-home orders from Gov. Tom Wolf because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it was in 2016, Pennsylvania is considered a battleground state in the 2020 presidential election between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The 7th District, made up of Northampton and Lehigh counties and several municipalities in southern Monroe County, is one the Republicans are hoping to flip after incumbent Democrat Susan Wild won the seat in 2018. The Republicans and Democrats control nine congressional seats each in Pennsylvania going into the 2020 election.

Browning also was a congressional candidate in 2018 but lost in the Republican primary to Olympic gold medal cycling champ Marty Nothstein, who ultimately lost to Wild. The primary vote was as close as it could be, with Nothstein winning 50.51% of the vote to Browning’s 49.49% (or about 300 votes). In the general election, Wild received 53.5%, while Nothstein had 43.5%.

Wild claimed the seat previously held by Republican Charlie Dent, who resigned in May 2018. The seat (which was then the 15th District before reapportionment) remained vacant for nearly six months.

While both Browning and Scheller claim to be the truer Trump supporter, Browning said he really is while Scheller is a pretender to get votes.

“My pro-Trump, pro-Second Amendment and pro-life candidacy offers the clear and compelling contrast Republicans need against Susan Wild and the increasingly socialist Democrat Party in Washington,” Browning said.

But Trump’s tweet sees it differently. “Lisa Scheller will fight for the incredible people of Pennsylvania in Congress. She strongly supports our military, vets, small businesses and the Second Amendment. Lisa has my complete and total endorsement,” Trump’s tweet said.

Trump did not endorse any of the six Republican candidates vying for the GOP nomination in the 8th District (parts of five northeastern Pennsylvania counties, including Monroe) whose seat is held by Democrat Matt Cartwright.

A former Lehigh County commissioner chair, just as Scheller was, Browning has had a string of losses, including a bid for re-election as commissioner, for Lehigh County Executive and for the 2018 congressional race. Scheller did not run for re-election after one four-year term as commissioner.

Browning believes that the endorsement of Scheller was recommended to Trump by underlings tasked with vetting Republican congressional candidates. Browning said whoever advised the president to make this choice did not serve Trump well, because even though Scheller “pretends” to be a Trump supporter, Browning said, her actions say something else.

He points to her 2016 campaign contribution to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the Republican candidates for president, and her 2018 congressional testimony against additional tariffs on Chinese products.

Silberline in Tamaqua, the company of which Scheller is president and chairwoman, has 500 employees worldwide, with about 150 in the United States and many of the rest split evenly between Europe and Asia.

“When the president visited the Lehigh Valley recently, he spoke about buying American and hiring American,” Browning said.

Despite Trump’s endorsement of Scheller, Browning said he completely supports Trump. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I am a 12,” said Browning, proclaiming himself as a proud “Trumpeteer.”

For her part, Scheller has tried to paint Browning as siding with liberal Democrats in 2010 by casting the deciding vote for a $16 million tax hike for Lehigh residents. Although the issue was much more complicated than this, the fallout probably cost Browning his seat on the board of commissioners when he sought re-election.

She, on the other hand, said in her TV commercial, that she is the “proven tax-cutter, saving taxpayers $40 million in permanent cuts.” She also pledged to “stand with President Trump to rebuild our economy.”

There originally was a third candidate in the GOP primary, but Matt Connolly withdrew when Browning challenged his invalid petition signatures. Connolly then endorsed Browning and was hired as a senior paid campaign adviser.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com