There are currently no women representing the state of Pennsylvania. But come November, there could be as many as seven.
Eight women won their primaries on Tuesday—seven Democrats and one Republican. It was a promising sign for Democrats, who see Pennsylvania as ground zero in their effort to regain control of the House: The party needs to pick up 23 seats in November to win the House majority, and a chunk of those could be in Pennsylvania. Two key factors are helping them out: Congressional redistricting has made several House districts more favorable for Democrats, and five Republican lawmakers have announced their retirements, putting several districts up for grabs.
To have a chance at retaking the House, Democrats need to win in the state—and they’re going to be relying on women to do it. “In the three districts that the Democrats have a good chance to pick up—Pennsylvania 4, 5, and 6—the nominees are women,” said G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, in an interview. That so many Pennsylvania women are running—and winning—matches a broader trend: More than twice as many women are running for Congress nationwide in 2018 than in 2016, and they’re winning their primaries in large numbers. The vast majority of those women are Democrats.
Madonna cited the #MeToo movement and the Parkland shooting as part of the motivation for so many women running for office. In Pennsylvania, a number of female candidates made gun control a top priority. “Throw in the unpopularity of Trump with Democratic women, and you’ve got a mixture that brought women [candidates],” Madonna said.
One of the 10 largest states in the U.S., Pennsylvania doesn’t have any women representing it. The last woman elected to the state’s 18-member delegation was Allyson Schwartz, who represented the state’s 13th congressional district until 2015. The state has never had a female governor, or a U.S. senator—Senate candidate Katie McGinty lost her bid to Republican Pat Toomey in 2016. At the state level, fewer than one in five lawmakers are women. The city of Philadelphia has never had a female mayor, and Pittsburgh has had just one—Sophie Masloff, who served from 1988 to 1994. This year, though, 20 Democratic women and five Republican women were on the ballot statewide.
Candidates who won their party’s nomination include Christine Houlahan, an Air Force vet, businesswoman, and former teacher from the state’s 6th district, near Philadelphia. Houlahan was recently endorsed by former Vice President Joe Biden, who told a crowd that she is “precisely the type of public servant we need serving in Congress.” Susan Wild, the 60-year-old former Allentown city solicitor, won the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania’s 7th district, where Republican Charlie Dent is retiring. Wild, who was endorsed by Emily’s List, a group backing pro-choice women, is widely viewed as a candidate who can unite progressives and centrist Democrats and Republicans. And in Pennsylvania’s 5th district, Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon, an attorney, defeated five other women and four men for the nomination. In November, she’ll go up against another woman, Republican Pearl Kim, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary.
All three of these races look favorable for Democrats: Cook Political Report currently ranks districts 5 and 6, where Houlahan and Scanlon are running, as “likely Democratic.” Wild, who will go up against Republican Marty Nothstein in November, is facing slightly more challenging odds, but Cook still predicts that the district will “lean Democrat.”
Commentators have proudly dubbed 2018 the Year of the Woman, and in Pennsylvania, Madonna says, there’s no doubt that’s true. “In my state, we’re in historic territory,” the pollster said. “At the end of the day I’d be stunned if we didn’t have two—maybe even three—members of Congress who are women.”