Politics

In Pennsylvania, Women Turned Two of the Country’s Most-Watched Districts Blue

Mary Gay Scanlon smiles in front of a crowd of sticker-wearing supporters.
Mary Gay Scanlon trounced her opponent in Pennsylvania’s 5th District.
Matt Rourke/AP

Pennsylvania’s all-male delegation to Congress will finally welcome some gender diversity come January. Women won the state’s 5th and 6th districts Tuesday night, securing two of the country’s most flippable districts for the Democrats.

The winners—Mary Gay Scanlon in the 5th and Chrissy Houlahan in the 6th—were assisted by a major redrawing of the state’s congressional map, spurred by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that found the old districts had been prejudicially drawn to favor the GOP. Hillary Clinton won the old 6th district by 1 point; she would have won by 9 in the new one.

Houlahan is a former Air Force captain and high school chemistry teacher. She took a seat left open by Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, who dropped out of the race in March. Houlahan might as well be a prototype of this election cycle’s first-time female candidates: She’s said she was driven to run by both the Women’s March and the sight of her gay daughter and Holocaust-survivor father crying over Donald Trump’s election. While her opponent, former Wendy’s franchise owner Greg McCauley, backed Trump’s plans for a border wall and defunding sanctuary cities, Houlahan cited mushroom farmers in her district who said harsh immigration restrictions made it difficult for them to find workers. She also out-raised McCauley by more than $3 million (!) from a donor base that was more than half female—a rare feat that speaks to the Trump-inspired outpouring of enthusiasm female candidates have seen this year.

Scanlon’s win is even more of a poetic victory for the post-Trump, #MeToo-era slate of female candidates. Pennsylvania’s 5th district seat was left open by GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan, who resigned after it came out that he’d use taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual harassment suit. A likely front-runner for the spot was also felled by sexual harassment complaints from former employees. Plus, a large chunk of the district is represented in the Pennsylvania statehouse by a guy who allegedly abused a fellow legislator with whom he was romantically involved. Regardless of which party won out, a woman was going to take this open seat—Scanlon, a civil rights lawyer and former school board member, was up against Pearl Kim, a special-victims prosecutor and daughter of Korean immigrants who ran unopposed for the Republican nomination.

Kim ran far away from her party during the election: She came out for universal health care, against immigrant family separation, and for the Paris Agreement on climate change. She didn’t even put the word Republican on her campaign materials. Scanlon still trounced her by about 30 points, and she’ll head to Congress right away since Meehan’s seat stands empty. Her swearing in will be an early note of triumph for the women who ran for office in 2018—three times as many ran in Pennsylvania this year than did in 2016—and a reminder of what progressive voters can accomplish when the shackles of gerrymandering fall away.

Correction, Nov. 7, 2018: This post originally misstated that Chrissy Houlahan decided to run for office when Rep. Ryan Costello declined to seek re-election. She’d already entered the race when he dropped out.