What a difference a day makes — make that hours — for liberal women hoping to smash their way, once and for all, into Pennsylvania’s all-male congressional delegation this November.
Tuesday night, I watched 32-year-old Rachel Reddick on a stage with 55-year-old Steve Bacher and 66-year-old Scott Wallace in a Bucks County Democratic congressional meet-and-greet. She was the only woman who, in an enormous suburban Philadelphia swing county, was willing to take a chance at unseating Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick.
Think about that. This is a midterm congressional election year so potentially historic that many seats that used to be locks for incumbents in Pennsylvania are up for grabs now that district boundaries have been redrawn due to a gerrymandering lawsuit.
Democrats, who hold only five of the state’s 18 seats, smell blood in Fitzpatrick’s district, thinking they can link him to President Trump and oust him by appealing to moderates. The national party is hoping to flip the House with help from Pennsylvania and the kind of highly educated and impassioned women voters in Bucks. And yet, only one in all of bellwether Bucks threw her hat in the ring.
There it was, laid bare, the ugly truth about the nation’s supposedly progressive party: For years, Democrats in this state failed to recruit or groom women for office. Women, for their part, failed to demand a seat at the table in light of this. The consequence of this political paradox was on stark display in the auditorium of Council Rock High School North in Newtown Township.
The guy who’d already won the county party endorsement in this so-called Year of the Woman was, well, one of the guys: Wallace. A wealthy progressive with the money to help self-finance what by all accounts will be a costly congressional run with national money expected to pour in from both sides of the spectrum.
As I watched, it was hard to imagine this was great news for women. Across the state’s 18-member congressional delegation, it looked on Tuesday as if maybe two seats had a good shot at going to women in November based on who was known to be running so far — in Montgomery and Chester Counties, where Democrats have the rarity of a decent pool of women at the ready.
Hardly a number to cheer over, with all the rage from women on the left over the last year.
Then came Christina Hartman, with some spill-your-coffee news she chose to share with us all around breakfast-time Wednesday.
The never-say-die Democratic candidate gave Lancaster-area GOP Rep. Lloyd Smucker a shocking run for his money in the 2016 race. But her planned rematch this year was killed when Smucker’s district was redrawn by the Supreme Court to be overwhelmingly conservative.
So what did she do?
On Wednesday, the 40-year-old “veteran” of campaigning announced she was moving to Harrisburg — and would take on a different Republican incumbent in a nearby central Pennsylvania district: U.S. Rep. Scott Perry.
Hartman was showing how it’s done.
Not only did she pursue elected office before Donald Trump’s White House win horrified her progressive female peers. She was now showing that the way to send more than a token or two of women to Washington requires total commitment and vision.
You have to be in the ring. You have to keep moving your legs as the jabs come your way.
Party leaders — and liberal women voters themselves — should take a lesson from this woman.
No one else will send women to Washington for you. Women have to be the ones who run — not just the ones complaining that their party keeps offering up men even in this #metoo era. Women need to be involved in the party, stay with it for years, and change it until it becomes, truly, a party that does more than give women bullet-point-policy-plank lip service.
“I think that the party needs to build its bench, for sure,” Hartman told me Wednesday, before adding how eager she is to pursue a middle-class policy agenda if she defeats Perry in the Republican-leaning district.
She wagered that maybe three seats now have a shot at going to women — hers and the newly drawn ones in Chester and Montgomery Counties, where women with fund-raising muscle and existing public profiles have declared their candidacies.
By any measure, that’s not enough. Every seat that goes to a man this year will be that much harder to yank back two years from now for a woman. Incumbents are like garden weeds — hard to yank out.
But Hartman is right when she adds: “Three sounds like a move in the right direction.”
A Facebook question sent in during Tuesday night’s candidate forum in Bucks captured what’s at stake for women.
“When it comes to gender equality and women’s rights,” the woman asked the panel, “do you think it is important to have representation in government? Or are male allies enough? Please explain.”
Bacher and Wallace both later told me they had begged prominent women in Bucks to run, but no one would bite.
Reddick, a naval officer who was raised Republican but who says she has adopted a fiercely liberal worldview over the last decade, said she was running for a simple reason.
“If we are going to be the change,” she told the group, “we have to see the change.”