Women Poised to Break Through Pennsylvania’s All-Male Delegation

May 16, 2018

Roll Call: Women Poised to Break Through Pennsylvania’s All-Male Delegation

By: Bridget Bowman

Pennsylvania holds the distinction of having the largest all-male congressional delegation, but that is likely to change next year following Tuesday’s primaries.

Eight women won their primary races in the Keystone State on Tuesday — seven Democrats and one Republican, who was the lone candidate in the contest. Two female candidates were in races that were too close to call at press time.

Of the women who won, one Democrat is favored to win the general election in November, thanks to her district’s partisan makeup. Three are in competitive races they could win.

Although women are poised to break through the all-male coterie, a number of them attributed the skewed representation to structural problems in the Keystone State and other challenges facing women on the campaign trail.

Boys’ club

For several female candidates, Pennsylvania politics was a boys’ club, perpetuated by county party structures that held power through their endorsements.

EMILYs List President Stephanie Schriock told reporters on a press call last week that county parties tend to be run by “older, white men.”

“To break around that, we need new energized candidates to build out organization around those structures,” Schriock said. “We have struggled to get through the support of a lot of those old structures in Pennsylvania. And we needed a moment like this with candidates like this.”

Three of the women who won their primaries were endorsed by EMILYs List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. The group spent more than $700,000 in three races, including for former Navy prosecutor Rachel Reddick, who lost her primary race in the 1st District to philanthropist Scott Wallace.

Multiple female candidates described their male opponents as running with a sense of entitlement and banking on name recognition from years in office.

Former Allentown City Solicitor Susan Wild won a six-way primary Tuesday, in which longtime Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli was considered a top contender. Morganelli did not support abortion rights and was considered a hard-liner on immigration.

“The thing that stands out most about Morganelli is his sense of entitlement and that extends to people who have been part of the good old boys network here,” Wild said on the press call with EMILYs List and several of their endorsed candidates last week.

She described some people having a “sense of outrage that I would actually dare to take John on.”

State Rep. Madeleine Dean, who won the Democratic primary in the 4th District, described facing a similar dynamic in her race against former Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel, who was seeking a comeback to the House, which he left in 2005 after three terms. 

“We know upfront that Joe Hoeffel got into this race when he saw that there were three strong women in the race and believe — makes no bones about it — name recognition was going to carry the day,” Dean said.

Dean ended up handily defeating Hoeffel and gun control activist Shira Goodman on Tuesday, garnering 73 percent of the vote. And she is likely heading to Congress next year since she is running as a Democrat in a district Hillary Clinton carried by 19 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

Along with Dean and Wild, two other Democratic women who could be coming to Congress next year won their primaries. Former school board member Mary Scanlon won the crowded 5th District primary and Chrissy Houlahan had already cleared the Democratic field in the open 6th District. With the incumbents in both newly drawn seats not running for re-election, both races are rated Likely Democratic.

On the trail

These women described shared challenges on the campaign trail — experiences that may sound familiar to other women running across the country.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten the question of who’s going to take care of my son,” said Reddick, the losing 1st District candidate. Primary winner Wallace self-funded his campaign and vastly outspent her on the airwaves.

Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, a 26-year-old candidate who competed for the Democratic nod in Pennsylvania’s 10th District, said she also faced questions about not being married.

“Women have approached me multiple times and said, ‘Why don’t you do something more womanly?’” she recalled.

Corbin-Johnson also noted that entrenched connections in central Pennsylvania can also serve as a barrier to prospective, first-time female candidates.

“This area is all about deep roots, deep connections. Who do you know? And how do you know them? And for that reason, honestly, it kind of holds a lot of women back,” she said.

Corbin Johnson’s primary was too close to call at press time. She was in second place with 35 percent of the vote, trailing Army veteran George Scott by 548 votes. Democrats are targeting the 10th District seat, held by GOP Rep. Scott Perry, since it shifted from one that President Donald Trump carried by 22 points to one that would have supported him by 9 points after the state Supreme Court imposed new congressional lines.

For the female candidates in Pennsylvania, part of the battle is actually deciding to run.

“It just is a matter of literally holding your nose and jumping in and being brave about it,” Wild said.