President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package, if it ever becomes law, won’t just construct new bridges, tunnels and highways — it could also help cement the Democrats’ House majority for another two years.
This dynamic is particularly pronounced in northeastern Pennsylvania, where Republicans see a pair of seats held by vulnerable Democratic incumbents as ripe for pickup and redistricting threatens to inject additional uncertainty into the high-stakes midterm elections.
Reps. Susan Wild, whose 7th Congressional District encompasses the Lehigh Valley and its cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and Matt Cartwright, whose 8th Congressional District includes Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, each won re-election in 2020 by fewer than 15,000 votes.
Both are banking on the passage of Biden’s revised, bipartisan infrastructure plan, which would bring critical projects and jobs to their districts that the lawmakers, as well as political strategists, say will bolster their chances at keeping the seats — and the House — blue in 2022.
“I don’t mean to sound too quaint about this but I honestly believe the way I navigate my race is by producing results,” Wild said. “That includes infrastructure projects.”
Shane Seaver, a political strategist who previously worked as a campaign manager and staffer for Cartwright, said government initiatives that make the “business base” stronger in northeastern Pennsylvania will get voters’ attention.
“The main focus in these districts has always really been jobs and investments in the districts,” he said. “That will now prominently include infrastructure.”
Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, elected twice by Pennsylvania voters, said: “The [Covid-19] relief bill was popular in these districts. The infrastructure bill will be popular in these districts. They just need to get it through.”
But if the bill dies — and worse yet, if redistricting cracks either of these districts — Wild and Cartwright could lose. Because Republicans need to flip only a few seats across the country to take control of the House, that could result in the Democrats losing their narrow majority.
The GOP is already targeting the districts.
Wild won re-election to her district, a mix of small cities, suburbs and farmland that is mostly white but has a growing Latino population, by just 14,000 votes (51.9 percent to 48.1 percent) in 2020. Biden carried the district. Cartwright, whose majority-white district includes large stretches of farmland and rural areas, won his by just 12,000 votes (51.8 percent to 48.2), even though then-President Donald Trump carried his district, which Biden claims as his birthplace, 51.7 percent to 47. 3 percent. (The nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s 2021 partisan voter index rates the 7th District as “even” and the 8th as “R+5,” meaning the GOP has the advantage).
“Between redistricting and House Democrats having to defend Biden’s toxic agenda, these seats are ripe for us to pick up,” Samantha Bullock, a spokeswoman for the committee, said in an interview.
She said Democrats in close races, such as Wild and Cartwright are expected to face, will have a lot to answer for, whether or not the infrastructure package is enacted.
“They’re signing on to all of this legislation blindly. They’re out there touting the American Recovery Act, and the American Jobs Plan, but the real-life impacts have been, and will continue to be, a worker shortage, higher taxes and rising costs on everyday goods.”
In any case, Bullock added, infrastructure is “far from a done deal.”
Historically, the president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections. This cycle could be no different, and several different factors will shape how the two races in northeastern Pennsylvania affect the outcome.
Infrastructure looms large — if Democrats can pass it
Biden’s American Jobs Plan — currently bogged down in partisan bickering and fragile negotiations — would, if signed into law, authorize hundreds of billions of dollars for new infrastructure projects across the United States.
In the 8th District, that would likely include a substantial upgrade to the district’s beleaguered sewer and drainage systems, whose faultiness has played a role in increasingly frequent and devastating flooding in the region. In the 7th, it would likely include an expansion of broadband access to the rural areas of the district.
In both, it would likely include improvements to roads, tunnels, bridges and, most notably, the possible construction of long-talked-about Amtrak passenger lines that would connect, separately, both Scranton and Allentown to New York.
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