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Opinion: Wild’s remarks not a good start in Carbon

Just out of curiosity, when I was in Palmerton the other day, I randomly asked 20 adults in a truly unscientific survey whether they knew the name of their U.S. representatives. Just three knew that it is Dan Meuser. Others guessed someone else, such as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, state Rep. Doyle Heffley or didn’t know. Some said they were embarrassed that they didn’t know their representative’s name.

I also asked the same adults if they knew the name of who might be representing them starting on Jan. 1, 2023. Actually, the 17 who said they didn’t know answered correctly, because the person won’t be determined until the November general election, but the three who thought that Dan Meuser will continue to be the representative if he won re-election were incorrect this time.

That’s because after the 2020 decennial census the state went through the reapportionment process. Starting next year, Carbon County will become part of the reconfigured 7th District that will include Northampton, Lehigh and several municipalities in Monroe County.

Democrat Susan Wild is the incumbent, having beaten Republican Lisa Scheller in 2020 by 3.8%. In that election, the district included Northampton, Lehigh and a wider swath of Monroe County; Carbon County, along with Schuylkill and a bunch of other northeastern Pennsylvania counties, is currently part of Meuser’s 9th District. Schuylkill and others stay in his district, but Carbon does not.

There is a rematch between Wild and Scheller this year, but now with Republican-friendly Carbon County as part of the district, election experts rate the race as a tossup. Northampton and Lehigh lean toward the Democrats, at least from a voter registration standpoint, but given Republican gains in recent years, Carbon voters may wind up being kingmakers come November.

As of July 25, here are the voter registration numbers for the two major parties in the counties that make up the new 7th District, with Democrats listed first: Carbon, 15,498-21,337; Northampton, 97,741-80,438; Lehigh, 110,551-81,835; Monroe, 2,878-4,345. Total: 226,668-187,955.

Wild, who is in her second two-year term, is considered vulnerable. In fact, the nonpartisan Cook Report lists the new district as “leaning Republican.” This means that Wild cannot survive any major missteps. Republicans claim that she has already put her foot in her mouth big time with comments about Carbon County Republicans in a virtual Democratic officials’ meet-and-greet online session on July 18.

According to several news accounts, Wild made comments that disparaged Republicans who supported former President Donald Trump, who carried the county with 65% of the vote in both 2020 and 2016. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney defeated Barack Obama in Carbon, 53%-46%, a preview of the coming shift of the county’s loyalties from Democrat to Republican.

“I’m not quite sure what was in their heads, because the people of Carbon County are exactly the kind of people who should not be voting for a Donald Trump,” Wild is quoted as saying. She then went on to say, “I guess I might have to school them on that a little bit.” Wild’s office confirmed that these quotes attributed to her were accurate, but Wild insists that her intent was certainly not to disparage any voters or their reasons for voting the way they did. She said that Trump and his brand of politics do not represent the goals of rural voters such as those in Carbon County.

Intentions aside, these types of remarks, which come off as appearing condescending, are reminiscent of the political dust-up that cost Democrat Hillary Clinton votes in the 2016 election when she lost to Trump. Her now infamous “basket of deplorables” reference to some Trump supporters caused a public-relations nightmare for the Democratic standard-bearer.

While Wild’s remarks do not have the national impact of Clinton’s, if they wind up costing her big time in Carbon County it is yet another example of how candidates need to choose their words wisely and not appear to talk down to constituents, especially when a new candidate to a county is prospecting for votes.

I reached out to Wild’s office to determine what kind of blowback has occurred and invited Wild to comment. Here is what she said: “When you are given the responsibility to represent people, actions are just as important as words. Lisa Scheller’s words and actions don’t match - and the voters of Carbon County deserve to know the difference between her record and mine. That’s what campaigns are about: educating voters on the differences between the candidates so they can make an informed choice, and the differences between Lisa Scheller and me could not be more clear.”

In comments to my colleague, Chris Reber, Scheller supporters criticized Wild’s virtual online comments at the meet-and-greet, accusing her of looking down on Carbon County and the residents’ ability to think for themselves.

The Wild comment reminds me of what Dan Quayle, vice president under President George H.W. Bush, once said to me when he misspoke: “What I really meant to say was …”

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.