The women have arrived. And boy, is it about time.
On an extraordinary Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, a state whose 18-member U.S. House delegation still looks like a baseball clubhouse, Democratic primary voters in the Philly region said: “Enough already!” In races east of Harrisburg that had me riveted, they cleared the path for four — count them, FOUR — women to run for wide-open congressional seats this November.
The magnitude of this moment can’t be overstated. Women are here to stay. Many more are sure to follow. And any aggrieved Old Boy rushing to write this off as a one-off might want to look up the definition of wishful thinking.
In one fell swoop at the polls, voters in the suburbs of Philadelphia and the former steel towns of Allentown and Bethlehem did for women what Fortune 500 boards and executives, other business leaders, and the all-male political kingmakers of this state have shamelessly failed to do time and again.
They gave women a seat at the table.
They did it so decisively that it should wipe out the tired excuse served up by mansplainers about why women have long stagnated on the margins of political and economic power: Because they have kids, because they’re mouthy, because they’re not in the game, yada yada yada YUCK.
Nowhere was the sheer audacity of this electoral shift more jaw-dropping than in Delaware County’s 5th Congressional District.
And what irony, given that it was redrawn earlier this year from the gerrymandered, five-county scribble that for years had secured incumbency for Republican Pat Meehan. Meehan’s not running for re-election after a sexual harassment scandal involving a Congressional staffer toppled the golden boy former prosecutor cultivated by Delco’s once-indomitable GOP machine.
Swarthmore attorney and former school board president Mary Gay Scanlon grabbed the win for Democrats, and in an incredibly competitive field of 10 liberal hopefuls. She beat five other women and a former Philadelphia deputy mayor, Rich Lazer, who had the backing of Philly’s powerful electricians’ union and Mayor Jim Kenney himself. (The district includes portions of Philadelphia and Lower Merion in Montgomery County.)
But even the women who lost to Scanlon were winners. Which should make every political operative on the right and the left think hard about what’s coming in November.
Of about 59,000 votes cast in that race, more than 41,000 went to the six women candidates (Scanlon was tops with about 16,800.) That’s seven out of every 10 votes. Even the second-place finisher, former federal prosecutor and political newcomer Ashley Lunkenheimer, beat Lazer.
Watching the returns pour in was as exhilarating as watching Nick Foles catch the Philly Special against Tom Brady’s Patriots in the Super Bowl. It meant a long-suffering team — women — was finally going to come out on top.
I mean, think about this. Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth made headlines earlier this year as the first U.S. Senator to give birth while in office. That would be like Joe Biden getting headlines for ordering wings at a bar. And yet, it’s news because only 10 women have ever given birth while serving in Congress. The reality in Washington looks nothing like the work force at large.
No wonder policymaking has been such a mess. (To partially quote a TV spot by Montgomery County Democratic winner Madeleine Dean.)
There’s no telling how many of these four make it to Washington after November. But we know at at least one woman will join the delegation from Pennsylvania: Either Scanlon or her GOP counterpart in the 5th, Republican Pearl Kim.
Two more are considered highly likely.
Chrissy Houlahan had no opposition in a Chester County district recently redrawn to no longer favor incumbency for Republican Ryan Costello. Rather than run a tough campaign against the neophyte in a county that voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, Costello threw in the towel.
And in Montgomery County, Dean, a state legislator, blew past long-retired former Congressman Joe Hoeffel and gun reform advocate Shira Goodman in another redrawn district that now leans Democratic. (Irony Part II: A man had expected to be the fave in that race — until state Sen. Daylin Leach found himself mired in accusations of inappropriate behavior toward women.)
Susan Wild surpassed five men to win the 7th in the former steel towns north of Philadelphia.
None of these wins are an accident. None are flukes.
I spent hours traveling across Montgomery and Delaware Counties on primary day, snagging some of these women at polling places just hours before the historic returns began rolling in. For two-plus months since the redrawn districts were sealed by the U.S. Supreme Court, all have been hustling.
What I saw was determination. Stamina. Focus. Resolve. And a pledge even by a few who turned out to be on the losing end of things by day’s end to keep the momentum going for years to come.
Even the women who ultimately lost are today armed with voter networks, donor networks, and campaign experience that is essential to helping secure future wins or becoming so-called kingmakers themselves one day soon.
Lunkenheimer pledged to help at least one of the local officials who’d come to support her race, Upper Darby Township Council member Sekela Coles, for higher office. She said much reflection was in order, given how much she had experienced on the campaign trail.
Goodman, an Elkins-Park-raised Yale law grad and leading gun-control lobbyist, was still rankled that powerful women’s group Emily’s List had endorsed Dean despite both candidates being pro-choice and having raised sizeable funds. But she just as readily expressed conviction about pivoting to advance the political ambitions of women.
“If I can inspire the next group,” Shira told me outside the Dresher synagogue where she voted with her sons Tuesday, “that’s what leadership is.”
And it doesn’t just look or sound like some guy named Richie, Eddie or Tom anymore.