126 women are on the ballot in Pa., and you might be surprised why they're running
Pennsylvania has resumed an important status, pollster and political scientist Terry Madonna says. York Daily Record
Pennsylvania is making political history, even before votes are cast on Election Day.
A record number of women are running for state offices and U.S. Congress in what is described as a “pink wave.”
Some analysts say women were motivated to run because Donald Trump won the White House. Others say it’s because Hillary Clinton lost.
But candidates say those gender-fueled stereotypes are ignorant of facts.
Support local journalism: Here's a special offer for new subscribers
Jess King, a Democrat and nonprofit executive running to unseat Republican Lloyd Smucker in the newly redrawn 11th congressional district, doesn’t even mention being a woman when she explains why she’s running.
The district includes Lancaster County and southeastern York County, a swath of Trump Country that the president won by 26 points. Despite the Republican-voter advantage, King has closed the race to single digits, according to polls.
The 44-year-old leader of ASSETS, an economic development organization in Lancaster, said there is a long list of issues motivating her to be on the ballot. It started with realizing Lancaster’s poverty rate increased 50 percent since 2000. She also wants healthcare for all, debt-free college, small business growth and fair elections.
“I’m not running because I’m a woman. I’m running because I care about issues,” King said.
But the Mennonite mother of two daughters can’t help but notice there’s nobody in the Pennsylvania delegation who looks like the three of them.
That’s a problem, according to Anne Wakabayashi.
As executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, an organization that trains Democratic women to run for office, it’s been Wakabayashi’s mission since at least 2015 to get more women in government.
Emerge is similar to the Anstine Series that trains Republican women to run for office.
Pennsylvania is one of 11 states with no women serving in Congress. The 18 people elected to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. House are all men, as are both of the state's U.S. senators.
“Our government can’t truly represent us without women in office. We can’t expect right, straight, white guys to adequately respond or care about and understand women, people of color and queer people,” Wakabayashi said. “Until we’re representative, we’ll never be represented. We will never be as strong as we can be until there are more perspectives.”
If Republican Pearl Kim defeats Democrat Mary Scanlon in the 5th congressional district, which covers Delaware County and other slices of the Philadelphia suburbs, she will be the first woman of color elected to Congress in Pennsylvania history.
But that’s not why she’s running.
The daughter of parents who immigrated from South Korea, and a survivor of cancer and campus sexual assault, said she sees the forgotten and hears the voiceless.
“If someone is hurting, I’m helping,” said the 39-year-old special victims prosecutor.
As a prosecutor, she secured the first human trafficking conviction in Pennsylvania.
Kim stepped down from Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, where she focused on campus safety and sexual assault on college campuses, to run for office.
She’s running on several key issues: bipartisan immigration reform, maintaining a strong economy, criminal justice reform and human trafficking.
Of the record 118 Pennsylvania women running for state office and eight women running for U.S. Congress, 91 are Democrats and 35 are Republicans. That surpasses the previous state record of 77 women on Pennsylvania ballots in 2014, when 49 Democrats and 28 Republicans were seeking office.
The higher number of women running this year is a trend across the country.
A record 256 women won U.S. House and Senate primaries across the country.
“Woman candidates have been viewed already as major winners of election 2018,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
But even if every woman on a ballot wins her race on Tuesday, Nov. 6, women would still hold less than 25 percent of congressional seats nationwide.
“Achieving gender parity will take more than one cycle,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Having more women run, like this year, is the only way to change that, she said.
“Now, we watch to see if these records turn into record numbers of officeholders come November,” Walsh said.
- More: 5 things missing from the Pa. governor's race debate moderated by Alex Trebek
- More: In the only debate between Tom Wolf and Scott Wagner, Pa. voters didn't hear much new
- More: Alex Trebek gets booed at Pa. governor race debate
- More: Alex Trebek responds to criticism after Pa. governor's debate
Democrats like their chances.
“We expect women Democrats to fare extremely well in November. Pennsylvania currently has no women in Congress, and Pennsylvania Democrats can send seven this year. A record number of women are running for state legislative seats as well, and we intend to pick up seats in Harrisburg this November,” said Brandon Cwalina, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
“We’ve seen tremendous Democratic enthusiasm and momentum in voter registration and engagement. We are going to work hard every day from now until November knocking on doors, making phone calls, recruiting volunteers and encouraging Pennsylvanians to vote for Democrats who will restore some sanity to the political process and ensure government works for everyday Pennsylvanians, not special interests,” he said.
Story continues below gallery:
Republicans also like their chances.
“Having a robust ground game is critical in any election and it’s the work of staff and volunteers that make the difference in getting people out to vote and winning elections,” Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Val DiGiorgio said in a statement.
Staffers and volunteers are working hard to get out the message about Republican candidates up and down the ticket, so voters are informed and ready to choose Republicans in November, he said.
“The Republican field program is unparalleled and we will do what it takes to ensure every effort is put forward to tell voters about every race, every candidate, and every issue to help them make their decision as Election Day approaches,” DiGiorgio said.
Analysts say, like always, it comes down to turnout.
“Will Democrats see a small blue wave or a big blue wave?” said G. Terry Madonna, a veteran political analyst and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. “If there’s a blue wave like there was a red wave in 2010 with the Tea Party movement, these seats like the 11th district are in play for Democrats.”
Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight predicts four of eight women running will make it to the U.S. House. It would be the first time a woman represented Pennsylvania since 2014, when Allyson Schwartz left her seat in Congress in an unsuccessful bid for governor.
Kim and King aren’t among the likely winners, but theirs are races to watch.
With about a month to go, Emerge considers them all races to watch.
“Nobody in my world is counting on a wave,” said Wakabayashi. “The taste of 2016 is still in our mouths. We thought we knew how that was going, and we were wrong. Nobody is willing to take the chance again. We’re out there working really hard. Thirty days in Trump’s America is a lifetime. We’re leaving nothing to chance.”
There's a good reason Tom Wolf and Scott Wagner are from the same county and running for governor. York Daily Record