Days after receiving a primary challenge from State Rep. Justin Simmons (R), moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R) has announced he will not seek an eighth term. Dent, a moderate, was in the crosshairs of grassroots conservatives and Trumpists after prominently opposing some of Trump’s initiatives this year.
The decision opens up PA-15, an R+4 seat covering most of the Lehigh Valley as well as a long deep-red tail through rural areas to the eastern suburbs of Harrisburg. Simmons is obviously (for now) the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination. As this is a very establishment/machine-dominated area, it is very possible that Dent’s retirement was more triggered by a loss of support from party insiders than by poor polling. If Simmons can coalesce the establishment behind him he may clear the field. Alternatively, more moderate insider forces may still be looking for a different candidate. State Sens. Pat Browne (R) and Mike Folmer (R) and Northampton CE John Brown (R) could potentially fit that bill; at least a half-dozen other GOP state Reps. also live in the district, along with many local officials. Wizardof144 mentions State Rep. Ryan McKenzie (R) and Lehigh County commissioner Marty Northstein (R) as possibilities.
Democrats will certainly be looking at this district more carefully now that Dent will not be the GOP nominee, though it’s probably still at least a somewhat uphill battle for them. The Dem bench in this area is not great, particularly as the most prominent name, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski (D), was just indicted this summer on corruption charges. State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D), Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez (D), and State Reps. Peter Schweyer (D), Robert Freeman (D), Steve Samuelson (D), Daniel McNeill (D), and Michael Schlossberg (D) live in or near the district and would likely be people to watch for the Democratic race. Ex-State Rep. Jennifer Mann (D), who retired in 2012 but is only 48 and previously ran for higher office, is also a possibility. Like the GOP side, it is likely to be decided by insiders and a seriously contested primary is very unlikely here.