ANALYSIS — While Bethlehem is best known as the birthplace of Jesus and the focal point of the Christmas story, a handful of Bethlehems around the country help tell the story of the election cycle.
These Bethlehems are more than just a place to get Christmas cards adorned with a Bethlehem postmark: They’re areas whose voters will help decide the fight for the majority in the House and Senate, as well as the White House.
Here’s a rundown of the state of play in some of the Bethlehems across the country:
Located just east of Allentown in Northampton and Lehigh counties and at the heart of the 7th District, Bethlehem, Pa. (population 76,000) is the largest and one of the most consequential Bethlehems in the United States.
After winning reelection with just 51 percent in 2022 in a district Joe Biden barely carried in 2020, Rep. Susan Wild is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress. Republicans have to sort through a crowded primary, but it’s the type of race that could give Democrats a headache if Biden’s standing doesn’t improve. Inside Elections rates the race as Tilt Democratic.
Bethlehem, Conn., is near the center of the competitive race in Connecticut’s 5th District. Republican George Logan, a former state senator, nearly defeated Democratic Rep. Jahana Hayes in 2022 and is back for a rematch.
Bethlehem has been a small (population 3,385) Republican stronghold that’s voted for every GOP presidential nominee since 1964. Republican David Sullivan defeated Hayes in Bethlehem 58 percent to 41 percent (1,342 votes to 943 votes) in 2020, and Logan expanded that margin of victory to 62 percent to 38 percent (1,203 votes to 740 votes) two years later, even though both Republicans lost districtwide. Inside Elections rates the 2024 race as Lean Democratic, and Hayes must win for Democrats to have a chance at winning back the majority.
If Democrats are going to retain their majority in the Senate, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown needs to hold his own in Stark County, including Bethlehem Township (population 5,520). The Buckeye State, including northeast Ohio, has been shifting toward Republicans. Brown won Stark County by nearly 15 points over GOP Sen. Mike DeWine in 2006. Six years later, the senator’s margin in Stark County narrowed to 4 points over Republican Josh Mandel. And, in 2018, Brown lost Stark County to GOP Rep. Jim Renacci by 1.5 points.
Brown’s 2024 race is rated as a Toss-up by Inside Elections, and he’ll need to avoid getting wiped out in GOP-leaning areas in order to have a chance. Democrats need him to win a fourth term because Republicans are on the doorstep of a majority with a likely takeover in West Virginia.
Georgia’s 10th District isn’t on the House battleground of competitive races, but the area could be consequential in the presidential race. “A Little Town Under the Star,” Bethlehem, Ga. (population 732) is located 24 miles west of Athens and 50 miles east of Atlanta.
The district is currently represented by GOP Rep. Mike Collins, who succeeded GOP Rep. Jody B. Hice, former senior pastor of Bethlehem First Baptist Church. Last cycle, Collins won a competitive primary for the open seat and won the general election by nearly 30 points. His 2024 race is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections. But in one of the biggest presidential battlegrounds, the margin in districts such as the 10th will be important. Donald Trump won the 10th by 26 points when he carried Georgia in 2016 but by just 18 points when he lost the state to Biden in 2020.
Bethlehem (population 2,484) is located in Grafton County, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire’s 2nd District. The race for that seat is rated Likely Democratic, but GOP strategists don’t spend much time or energy on challenging Democratic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster. But Biden, who in addition to weak approval numbers nationally may have angered the state’s voters with his unsuccessful push to have South Carolina hold the first presidential primary, could struggle to win the district at the top of the ticket. Biden carried the 2nd District with just 52 percent in 2020, which could give the GOP a shot at a takeover late in the cycle.
Surprisingly, there are a lot more Bethlehems in the United States, but it’s even more of a stretch to make them politically consequential.
Bethlehem, Ky., is in Henry County, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear narrowed his loss from 14 points in 2019 to 10 points in 2023 en route to his reelection victory. But Henry County is represented by GOP Rep. Thomas Massie in the 4th District, which is rated Solid Republican.
Bethlehem, Ind. (population 245) along the Ohio River is represented by GOP Rep. Erin Houchin in the 9th District, whose reelection race also is rated Solid Republican.
Bethlehem, Md., is the birthplace of former Republican Williams Oswald Mills, who represented the 1st District from 1971 until his death in 1973. The 1st District, which covers eastern Maryland, is still Republican territory and is currently represented by GOP Rep. Andy Harris. The 2024 race is rated Solid Republican.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.