By Jim Ellis
Sep. 12, 2017 — A day after Pennsylvania conservative state Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Coopersburg) officially declared his Republican primary challenge to Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Allentown), the congressman announced that he would not seek an eighth term in the House.
It is unlikely the Simmons challenge forced Dent from Congress, but the overall political climate certainly contributes to his retiring. Dent has been one of President Trump’s top Republican critics. The congressman, age 57, reminded his supporters, however, that he originally planned to only serve five or six terms and will be in elective office for 28 consecutive years once his final term in the House comes to a close at the beginning of 2019. He was originally elected to the state House of Representatives in 1990, serving until his election to the state Senate in 1998, and then to Congress in 2004.
Democrats will now be looking to target the open 15th District, which stretches from the Allentown-Bethlehem area all the way west on Interstate 78 to the outer reaches of Harrisburg. The 15th District was more of a swing district before 2011 redistricting, however. Now, it performs as a reliably Republican seat.
The Allentown-Bethlehem district was solidly in Democratic hands from 1952 through 1978, when Republican Don Ritter upset eight-term Democratic Congressman Fred Rooney (D-Bethlehem) in that latter year. Ritter would represent the Lehigh Valley until 1992 when he lost to Democrat Paul McHale. McHale (D-Bethlehem) then retired after serving three terms. In 1998, businessman Pat Toomey (R-Allentown) converted the seat for the GOP and held it for three terms until he unsuccessfully challenged then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 GOP primary.