May 17–Like tributaries flowing into a mighty river, strong candidates, a new congressional map, the election of President Donald Trump, the subsequent Women’s March, the Me Too movement and fervor for gun control following the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre, all converged Tuesday to produce a tide of winning female candidates unlike anything seen previously in Pennsylvania politics.
In a state with no women in its congressional delegation, eight women — seven Democrats and one Republican — captured nominations Tuesday, producing the most female congressional nominees in Pennsylvania since 1980, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. (Before then, the only Pennsylvania women to serve in Congress won in special elections to fill seats vacated by their husbands’ deaths, center records show.)
Susan Wild declares victory to supporters in the Democratic primary for Congress in Pennsylvania’sLehigh Valley-based 7th District at Louie’s restaurant in south Allentown on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Harry Fisher / The Morning Call)
Susan Wild declares victory to supporters in the Democratic primary for Congress in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley-based 7th District at Louie’s restaurant in south Allentown on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Harry Fisher / The Morning Call)
At least one woman is all but guaranteed victory in November, and several more Democratic primary winners are in suburban Philadelphia districts highly likely to go Democratic, setting the table for a potential gender change in Pennsylvania’s delegation.
“It’s absolutely historic,” Muhlenberg College pollster Chris Borick said. “There is simply lots of energy among women for a change in the status quo in American politics.”
No single event or issue explains female candidates’ success, observers said.
To start, of course, was the unusually high number of women who jumped into congressional races across the state — 20.
Observers said the women who won contested races also were formidable candidates. Winning Democratic candidates include Susan Wild, a litigator and former Allentown solicitor, in the Lehigh Valley’s7th Congressional District; state Rep. Madeleine Dean, a lawyer from Montgomery County, in the 4th District; Mary Gay Scanlon, a lawyer from Swarthmore in the 5th District; and Bibiana Boerio, a Ford Motor Co. executive who won the 14th District nomination in southwest Pennsylvania.
Republican political consultant John Brabender argued the candidates’ qualities drove the vote more than their gender.
“The election is going to be decided by the ideology of the candidate, not their gender,” Brabender said, acknowledging that women tend to vote more for Democrats than Republicans.
But outside conditions also were prime for women to make inroads. As much as anything, the redrawing of Pennsylvania’s congressional map, ordered by the state Supreme Court early this year, moved out some incumbents who feared losing in a new district and inspired candidates to jump in, said the Rutgers center’s Kelly Dittmar.
The court ultimately redrew the districts, after ruling that the Republican map of 2011 violated the state constitution by unfairly tilting the playing field to the GOP. Other states also are fighting gerrymandered political maps, but none has seen such definitive and swift action to replace the map.
That, Dittmar said, may be why women’s success in Pennsylvania may be considered “unique” among states this year.
The redrawn map is also the reason why Dean was on the congressional ballot at all.
The Montgomery County representative planned to run for lieutenant governor until the Supreme Court’s map became law in February. When she saw a new district covering her entire home county, Dean decided to sprint for the seat.
“It was just remarkable,” she said of the court’s map. “Montgomery County has its own seat for the first time in 30 years. For me to expand on my experience, that’s where I felt I would be most effective.”
What she found as she crisscrossed the county was “an eagerness for civic engagement,” she said. Some of it showed publicly in the Women’s March events, while other “invisible groups” met in living rooms to plan their own local activism, she said.
Dean, who testified last month in a hearing on changing Pennsylvania gun laws, also got support from voters motivated to action by the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead in February.
The energy coming from the Women’s March and the awareness raised by the Me Too movement “had to have had a big effect,” Wild said.
“The message I was consistently getting,” she said, “was we’re tired of not having equal representation in Congress.”
Enthusiasm was high among left-leaning voters, who gravitated to candidates such as Dean and Wild, as did liberal campaign funders such as Emily’s List. The organization, which supports pro-abortion rights women, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into 13 state and federal female candidates and won nine races, said Julie McClain Downey, a spokeswoman.
While Emily’s List, other like-minded organizations and their supporters all believe in the strength of their candidates, they could not ignore the elephant in the room: Trump.
“The president is extremely polarizing to Democrats as well as Republicans,” Downey said.
Even among Republicans, Trump’s influence over the party looms for better or worse, said pollster and political scientist G. Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College.
“It’s clear the ideology differences and the Trump factor are at the core” of women’s success in the primary, he said.
Madonna noted that primary races differ from the one-on-one of general elections, which will present challenges to women in a state that backed Trump in 2016 and has been slow to embrace women as political leaders. Indeed, only seven Pennsylvania women have been members of Congress, according to the Rutgers center.
Borick thinks that’s primed to change.
“I wouldn’t bet against them,” he said.
This article provided by NewsEdge.