For a large sector of the electorate it was payback time. On Tuesday, the blue wave had strong pink undertones.
Democrats accomplished their goal of winning back the House in the 2018 midterm election, and women clinched a political moment.
Four Democratic women won congressional races in Pennsylvania on Election Night. For the past four years, there have been no women in the Keystone State’s congressional delegation.
As of Wednesday morning, voters were on track to send at least 99 women to the House nationwide, surpassing the previous record of 84, the Associated Press reported. More than 230 women were on the ballot in House races nationwide.
As of early Wednesday morning, at least 22 women were headed to the Senate, the AP reported, with a couple of races undecided. Women also won six gubernatorial contests, bringing the national total to 12. And scores more staked claim to seats in state general assemblies.
Here in Pennsylvania, women rode the blue wave on the back of a court-issued redistricting order that, in most cases, resulted in more democratic districts.
That enabled women to barrel through a stubborn barrier: the male dominance over the Congressional delegation. Pennsylvania voters had not sent a woman to Congress since 2014. Men had laid claim to all 18 spots of the Congressional delegation and Pennsylvania’s two seats in the Senate.
On Tuesday night, Pennsylvania voters put four women up on the scoreboard. Voters elected Chrissy Houlahan, Madeleine Dean, Susan Wild and Mary Gay Scanlon – all of them Democrats – to Congressional seats.
From first-time candidates to seasoned veterans seeking higher offices, women positioned Pennsylvania to help flip the House to the Democrats, an outcome widely considered a repudiation of the Trump administration and its policies.
Houlahan, a captain in the US Air Force Reserves, campaigned on a platform to repair climate change, the Affordable Care Act and immigration.
Houlahan’s newly acquired seat, which includes Chester County and parts of Berks County, was most recently vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, who is retiring.
Indeed, Pennsylvania’s pink wave mobilized amid the departures of a number of Republican incumbents in an election cycle underscored by progressive enthusiasm.
Madeleine Dean clinched the race for the 4th Congressional district, beating Republican challenger Dan David, 63 percent to 37 percent.
An outgoing state House legislator, Dean will represent largely the same constituency in Congress as she did in the state Legislature – that of Montgomery County. The 4th Congressional District was newly redrawn in the redistricting of congressional districts this year.
Susan Wild won the race in the 7th Congressional District with 55 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Marty Nothstein, the Lehigh County Commissioner and Olympic gold medalist in cycling. Wild fills the seat once held by former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Lehigh County Republican.
Mary Gay Scanlon sailed to victory in the race for the 5th Congressional District, defeating GOP candidate Pearl Kim. It was the only congressional race in Pennsylvania featuring two women as the nominees of the two major parties.
Republicans had controlled the seat for approximately eight years. Scanlon became the first woman from Delaware County elected to Congress, the Delaware County Daily Times reported. She fills the seat once held by former U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a Delaware County Republican who stepped down earlier this year.
Dean, Houlahan, Scanlon and Wild end the losing streak for women that emerged in 2014 with the retirement of former U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the last time a woman represented Pennsylvania in Washington.
One of the toughest paths for a Democratic woman proved an impossible task: first-time Democratic candidate Jess King failed to unseat Republican incumbent Lloyd Smucker in the 11th Congressional District.
Smucker sailed to victory and a second term in the Republican stronghold, which includes all of Lancaster County and part of York County and went for Trump by 25 points in 2016.
The so-called pink wave was arguably fueled by the 2016 bitter defeat of the first female presidential candidate, but it was undoubtedly grounded in the historic and lingering marginalization of women.
“I think women have always been driven to run for office because they want to do something,” said Anne Wakabayashi, executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, an organization that trains Democratic women to run for office.
“There is a saying that men run to be something and women run to do something. Women really are motivated to run because of something that happened….. they decided to run for office and get the job done themselves. I think what we are seeing is an outgrowth of that mentality on steroids.”
Indeed, that mentality fueled the momentum among women in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 general election. Women donned pink hats and marched and then jumped into the political arena in historic numbers.
Few places saw the pink wave sweep with as much clarity as in southeastern Pennsylvania, where the state’s newly elected Congressional delegation of women sailed to victory in four contiguous key districts – the Philadelphia suburban counties.
“When you juxtapose the incredible dearth of women from Pennsylvania in Congress against a year when the energy for women candidates nationality is at historic level…something had to give,” said Chris Borick, a Muhlenberg College political science professor and analyst. “It certainly does make southeastern Pennsylvania the epicenter of that shift.”
Across the country, women made inroads up and down the ballot, including flipping GOP control in at least two states, Kansas and Michigan, the latter pulling off a clean sweep of women for every statewide office on the ballot.
Among the victors: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, who at 29 is poised to become the youngest House member ever elected; Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton, who unseated Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock; and Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
The partisan shift in the House in favor of Democrats was enormous enough, and notably so in Pennsylvania, where Democrats have for years occupied a mere five of the state’s 18 congressional seats. The performance of women here in Pennsylvania makes it near-historic.
Dean, Houlahan, Wild and Scanlon triumphed in some of the most coveted swing areas in the country. Along a 60-mile stretch, Pennsylvania’s representation in Congress by women overnight went from zero to four.
“It’s a seismic shift and demographically long overdue,” Borick said.
Indeed, Pennsylvania has historically lagged behind other states when it comes to sending women to Capitol Hill, but if Tuesday is any indication, the Keystone state could finally be catching up.
“I think it’s probably going to be a more normal element in our electoral behaviors,” Borick said. “I can’t imagine we are ever going to drift back to having no women in Congress. That’s a reasonable expectation.”
For most women, indeed progressive ones, the repudiation of Trump policies – from immigration to health care – combined with the sustained #MeToo movement and the outrage by many women of the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court helped propel women like Dean and Houlahan to victory.
Indeed, so-called women’s resistance groups played a pivotal role in Tuesday’s election. In the wake of Trump’s election, Pennsylvania counted more than 300 such resistance groups. Most were small groups with a few dozen women banning together over social media. Throughout 2017, these groups evolved with better training and focus, and suddenly groups like Indivisible (and its myriad chapters) and Pantsuit Nation were supporting female candidates to office.
The majority of these women saw the election of Donald Trump as a wake-up call.
“I see us moving towards seeing more women represented at the highest level,” said Alissa Packer, an activist with Indivisible PA. “I think they are going to see what is at stake and that we need to be in this for the long haul. Women see how important courts are. Republicans have always had their eyes on the courts and Democrats haven’t. The election of Trump and selections to the Supreme Court was a big wake up call.”
Helping to fuel the momentum behind women candidates were legions of volunteers who canvassed, went door to door for candidates and even organized a primary debate.
The small gains made Tuesday are only the start, Packer said.
“Women need to step up and Democratic women need to step up and run for office and cultivate leaders from ground up as Republicans have done,” she said.
For Wakabayashi, the executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania, the gains made by women in the midterms is confirmation that a broken system is on its way to being repaired.
“This is a change and a change that it’s not just going to last this cycle,” she said. “People woke up and got engaged. And these are people who are not going to stop being engaged.”