UPDATE, May 16, 8:17 a.m.: Susan Wild on Tuesday won the Democratic primary in the state’s 7th Congressional District, earning 33.3 percent of the vote, according to the New York Times. John Morganelli finished second.
The looming Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s newly drawn 7th Congressional District is drawing national attention as pro-choice and progressive organizations seek to boost their candidates over a vocal anti-choice lawmaker.
Polling shows John Morganelli, who opposes abortion rights and has aligned himself with President Trump on immigration, was the Democratic candidate viewed most favorably, according to a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll released last week.
He’s one of six Democrats competing in the May 15 race to represent the district, which encompasses much of the area represented by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent. Though a handful of candidates are running for the party nomination, it is often discussed as a three-way race between Morganelli, attorney Susan Wild, and pastor Greg Edwards.
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When a generic Democrat-Republican matchup in the district was polled by Morning Call, Democrats had an 11 percent lead over the GOP—meaning whoever wins the party’s nomination on Tuesday has a real chance of winning the general election.
Given his name recognition in the district, that candidate could very well be Morganelli.
Though his campaign site notes his supposed record on “women’s rights” during his time as a district attorney, it does not mention his position on abortion rights or reproductive health. But he hasn’t been silent on those issues.
Last month at a candidate forum, when the group of Democrats running were asked to raise their hand if they were pro-choice, Morganelli kept his hand down. He later called himself “a pro-life Democrat like Sen. Bob Casey,” according to Roll Call. He gave more detail in an interview with Morning Call when asked about his positions on “current abortion law.”
“As a Catholic, I am a pro-life Democrat,” he said. “I believe that abortion should be available in rare cases such as life of the mother, rape, incest and extreme fetal deformity. Despite this position, I believe that Planned Parenthood should be funded because it provides important non-abortion health services to many women.”
When asked if Morganelli would vote in favor of abortion restrictions, his campaign spokesperson, Rich Wilkins, did not directly answer the question. “John’s position is almost identical to Senator Bob Casey’s,” Wilkins said in an email to Rewire.News. “John is personally pro-life, but he respects settled law from the Supreme Court. He opposes defunding Planned Parenthood, and supports Medicaid and ACA health care plans paying for reproductive health services, as it is settled law.”
Morganelli, who supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), opposes sanctuary cities and said it’s his responsibility as a district attorney “to enforce the law and work with ICE” to go after undocumented families.
Those views have caught the attention of Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer’s NextGen America super PAC. The organization has targeted Morganelli based on his opposition to abortion rights and his agreement with Trump on immigration. “These are not the values of young Pennsylvanians, and John Morganelli shouldn’t represent the Democratic Party on the ballot in November,” said NextGen America spokesperson Aleigha Cavalier in a statement to Roll Call.
Both EMILY’s List, an organization that seeks to elect pro-choice women to office, and NARAL Pro-Choice America have jumped into the race, citing Morganelli’s positions on abortion rights and immigration. The two groups support Wild, a self-described “proud progressive.”
On a Thursday press call hosted by EMILY’s List, Wild acknowledged voters were more familiar with Morganelli. “My opponent, John Morganelli, has name recognition from 20-plus years of being the district attorney. Throughout his campaign he has held a press conference on every little subject he could possibly come up with every couple of days for free media attention,” she said.”
This week, WOMEN VOTE!, an EMILY’s List voter mobilization project, launched a six-figure television ad buy criticizing Morganelli’s positions on abortion and immigration. The group announced in late April a direct mail and TV advertising program in support of Wild.
Wild’s position on reproductive rights stands in stark contrast to Morganelli’s. On her campaign site, she says “standing up for women’s issues is one of the core principles” of her campaign, while promising to “unequivocally defend a woman’s right to choose.”
“Every woman should be able to receive effective, affordable care when she needs it—especially women with lower incomes, in rural areas with less access to care, and those who otherwise find themselves vulnerable,” says her website.
In policy terms, that means “she supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, continuing to fund Planned Parenthood and requiring businesses to include birth control in their health care coverage,” Wild’s campaign spokesperson told Rewire.News in an email. “There are no restrictions to abortion care that Susan would ever support.”
Beyond reproductive rights, Wild’s platform includes support for the FAMILY Act, which would guarantee at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Her platform also includes “true universal health care” and criminal justice reform—including the abolition of private prisons, “common sense” gun reform, the restoration of voting rights, and opposition to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies such as the border wall and ICE raids.
She isn’t the only pro-choice Democrat fighting to represent the party in the general election.
Edwards, the founder and senior pastor of Resurrected Life Community Church and the president and CEO of Resurrected Community Development Corporation, includes his support for “progressive” policies on his campaign site. He has been endorsed by a range of progressive organizations, including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, and Democracy for America. He was endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC this week.
Edwards’ campaign site features “protecting reproductive choice, while fighting for reproductive justice” as part of his platform. He says that “access to abortion is basic medical care,” and vows to “fight to protect a person’s right to choose … so that every person— regardless of race, geography, or socioeconomic status—has access to the full range of comprehensive care that they need.” He promises to fight for the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation to prohibit states from imposing a range of abortion restrictions.
Political and advocacy groups aren’t the only ones getting involved in the race. The district has caught the eye of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the arm of the Democratic Party that works to elect members to the U.S. House of Representatives. It listed PA-07 as a “district battlefield” in a recent memo.
The DCCC reportedly tried to intervene in the district’s increasingly heated primary. Edwards told the Washington Post in March that the DCCC approached local party members to see if he would consider running for another office. The Post confirmed that Tim Persico, described as a “DCCC operative,” had done the same with Wild.
DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly said the organization had not asked any candidates to drop out and stressed that the conversations came in light of the recently redrawn district lines. “Pennsylvania’s congressional maps were just completely redrawn, and it’s very typical for candidates to recalculate their campaign plans as a result,” she told the Post.
When asked whether the DCCC would consider backing Morganelli if he wins the primary, despite his position on immigration and abortion rights, Amanda Sherman, a spokesperson for the DCCC, told Rewire.News on Friday that it considers “all Democratic candidates for our Red to Blue program.” If he wins the primary, the DCCC would evaluate the race “as a holistic approach to his campaign, based on how competitive we think he could make the district.”
Wilkins told Rewire.News that Morganelli had not been approached by the DCCC about leaving the congressional race, and that Morganelli “has had minimal contact with the DCCC. Since entering, all contact has been at a staff level” through Wilkins.