By Jamie Wiggan
Mike Pendel of Robinson is seeking to turn Pennsylvania’s 45th legislative district red for the first time since the seat was established in 1969. To do that, he must secure his party’s support in the primary, where he’s running unopposed, and then take on Democratic incumbent Anita Kulik in November.
Pendel – a political newcomer – said he feels hopeful about his prospects for winning the race on promises to strengthen Pennsylvania’s economic outlook and education standards. He hopes by focusing on these issues and presenting himself as “a positive choice,” he can overturn the district’s solid blue tilt.
“I think you can break party lines whenever your messaging speaks to people on a grassroots level,” he said.
To deliver on the economy, Pendel said he would seek to show greater support for the natural gas industry and project a more “business-friendly” image to out-of-state investors. To bolster education outcomes, he said he wants to streamline curriculums by placing greater emphasis on math and literacy.
Kulik – first elected in 2016 after 12 years as a Kennedy commissioner – meanwhile points to her track record as a legislator and her broad career experience in politics and law as evidence of her superior candidacy.
“I’m campaigning on my experience and my commitment to my communities that I represent, and I believe my record shows that,” she said. “Life experience, work experience, career experience make a big difference.”
If she staves off Pendel’s challenge, Kulik said she wants to continue advocating for regional infrastructure improvements and to work with fellow legislators across the aisle on channeling more investment into the state’s western portion.
“We are at a crossroads in the country right now where we really need to address our bridges, our roads, our water systems, our sewage systems,” Kulik said. “From good infrastructure comes economic growth.”
Kulik said she’s already been working with neighboring lawmakers across both houses and parties to lobby Harrisburg into channeling a greater share of funding to this side of the state.
“We have to stand up for the west,” Kulik said. “We agree wholeheartedly that we need to work together.”
Two years ago, Kulik faced a GOP challenge in the form of Danny DeVito, a young law clerk who has since left the district. The campaign became heated after Kulik’s office was defaced by chalk, and her husband leveled blame at DeVito and his supporters. After losing the election in 2020, DeVito claimed without evidence that voter fraud had been a factor.
Pendel said he wants to avoid political mudslinging and instead run a positive campaign as a “value-driven candidate.” Pendel has worked primarily in the medical technology field since graduating from Duquesne University with a degree in history and political science. His father serves as tax collector for Robinson.
Despite his positive campaign pledge, Pendel was willing to say of Kulik that he “[doesn’t] feel like she’s a servant leader,” and vowed to offer a better model of leadership based on listening and constituent service.
Kulik strongly disagrees, stating instead that her connection to her constituents is one of her strongest motivators in her work.
“I get approached on the street, I get approached in supermarkets,” she said. “I love that about this job. I love that people feel they can approach me.”