Any thought that Pennsylvania is just one of a bunch of big-political-muscle states with a tantalizing batch of congressional seats up for grabs this year went out the window on Tuesday in Allentown.
That’s where EMILY’s List, the influential national group that raises money for women seeking public office, made clear just how huge this state’s congressional midterm primaries are to it.
The big-money-for-Democratic-women group is heading into Tuesday’s election heavily invested in the Keystone State and key races near Philadelphia in which women are vying for seats in the state’s all-male 18-member House delegation.
EMILY’s List is so juiced about Pennsylvania that its president made a rare in-the-flesh stop Tuesday in Allentown to personally stump for the only woman — Susan Wild — running in a field of six Democrats for the Seventh Congressional District seat long held by departing Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.
EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock told me at an event for Wild that her group has spent in the “upper six figures” on races across the state with a week still to go. The Lehigh Valley contest, in my words, is the juiciest of them all in terms of Trumpian drama, with a subplot that even our reality-TV-king/president would eat up like a greasy Big Mac.
The front-runner is a guy who turned Twitter into his own Help Wanted ad by asking Trump to add him to the Donald’s new administration in late 2016 — Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli.
But wait. There’s more.
Morganelli also mostly opposes abortion and thinks Trump is the bee’s knees when it comes to clamping down on immigration. (This, too, was the subject of Morganelli tweet love to Trump.)
Just for clarity: He is a Democrat. And a front-runner in a so-called blue wave fueled by hatred of Trump from the left.
No wonder EMILY’s List is throwing money through an affiliated super PAC to run TV attacks in the Lehigh Valley. One ad frames Morganelli as a guy who won’t “stand up to Trump.”
No wonder Schriock also visited the district Tuesday alongside national abortion rights activist Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America to motivate volunteers looking to help Wild win next week. This was Schriock’s only visit for a female candidate in the state so far this year.
— DA John Morganelli (@johnmorganelli) March 16, 2017
I am only DA in Pa. Who has a record on this.https://t.co/DGmxZ8qym8
— DA John Morganelli (@johnmorganelli) January 5, 2017
— DA John Morganelli (@johnmorganelli) December 23, 2016
What does all this mean?
For starters, EMILY’s List is no fairy dust. You don’t just win after getting the group’s happy nod or even helpful attack ad assist. But it’s a sign of how much action there is with women candidates this year. And that means something.
EMILY’s List was formed in the 1980s at a time when not a single woman was serving in the U.S. Senate as a result of independently campaigning for a seat. It’s helped elect dozens to the House and Senate since, only to suffer some terrible and high-profile electoral losses in 2016.
Still, as municipal and county elections last November stunned even party leaders with record Democratic turnout in the Philly suburbs and long-held GOP seats were flipped by liberals, it seems there is an unmeasurable amount of momentum by and for women. Women were largely credited with that turnout surge last year.
“EMILY’s List in the 2015-2016 election cycle, we talked to 925 women across the country about running for office,” Schriock said. “Since the 2016 election, over 36,000 have contacted us.”
This is the kind of energy that is the very definition of wild card. No one should write off any candidate yet. Polls and scuttlebutt be damned.
“We are part of something very big here,” she added.
EMILY’s List has formally endorsed five women in five of the state’s congressional districts: Montgomery County’s Fourth District Democrat Madeleine Dean, Bucks County newcomer Rachel Reddick in the First, newcomer Chrissy Houlahan in Chester County’s Sixth, Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson in Harrisburg’s 10th, and Wild.
Reddick is being significantly outspent by self-financing Democrat Scott Wallace. Dean’s greatest challenge may be overcoming the name recognition of Joe Hoeffel, the long-ago congressman who jumped into the race after having left politics. Also in that race is another woman, gun-reform advocate Shira Goodman.
EMILY’s List picked no one in the crowded Fifth District race in Delaware County and parts of Lower Merion and Philadelphia, because it felt at least three of the six women in that 10-candidate field — Mary Gay Scanlon, Ashley Lunkenheimer and Molly Sheehan — were all strong contenders, Schriock told me.
“I believe all of our women — and even the women we’re not with in Pa. 5 — have the momentum,” she said.
National Democrats are hoping to flip from three to six of Pennsylvania’s seats while taking control of the House from Republicans. And while many women will be left for dead on Tuesday night, many will not. Of that Schriock is certain.
“Most of the women who are running are first-time candidates who are building from scratch,” she said. “It is extraordinary that they are competitive already.”
“We’re going to push all the way until the last vote is cast.”