EMILY’s List targeting Philadelphia area Republicans in 2018

 Chrissy Houlahan is one of the many women Emily's List is backing in the 2018 congressional elections. (Provided)

Chrissy Houlahan is one of the many women Emily's List is backing in the 2018 congressional elections. (Provided)

The 2018 congressional elections are still 16 months away —  but a PAC that backs women candidates who support abortion rights has announced it’s gunning for six republican-held seats in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Energized by the election of Donald Trump and recent battles over the Affordable Care Act, EMILY’s List announced it will target 50 sitting members of Congress, the largest number of candidate’s it has ever supported in an election year. 

Early interest from potential candidates spurred on the campaign, according to communications director Julie McClain Downey.

“We’ve had 16,000 women reach out to us saying they want to run for office” compared to just over 900 for the 2016 election, she said. “And that’s just since election day.”

In Pennsylvania, the group has put Ryan Costello, Pat Meehan and Lloyd Smucker “on notice,” along with Frank LoBiondo and Leonard Lance in New Jersey. They’re among the 48 US representatives and two senators targeted by the group, due to “their repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood and roll back equal pay legislation; their ‘yes’ votes on Trumpcare,” said EMILY’s list President Stephanie Shriock in a statement

EMILY’s List derives its name from an acronym — “early money is like yeast, it makes the dough rise” — that also encompasses its political strategy. For three decades, the group has groomed women candidates who support abortion rights and provided those they endorse with funding and infrastructure during the crucial early phases of campaigning.

While the political committee has propelled 116 women into the House of Representatives since its inceptions, challengers face long odds. On any given election year, 94 to 96 percent of incumbents in Congress hold onto their seats, according to Brigid Callahan Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University.

“We also know, from time to time, there are years that serve as a catalyst for significant sea changes” when a large number of seats may turn over, she said. Those include after the Watergate scandal broke, and in 1994, with the “Republican revolution” led by Newt Gingrich.

As for 2018, it’s too early to say. “There’s a lot at stake for groups like EMILY’s List, that really want to champion issues for women,” said Democratic strategist Mark Nevins. “They need to take a more aggressive approach, than they would normally.”

But, he caution, PAC support is “not some magic pixie dust you can sprinkle on a campaign.”

So far the EMILY’s List has backed two Democratic candidates in this region:  Chrissy Houlahan in Pennsylvania’s 6th District and Mikie Sherrill in northern New Jersey’s 11th District — whose early endorsements and fundraising success seem to indicate they don’t need magic to run a serious campaign. Each has pulled in more than $200,000 so far.

For the other “notice” districts, the PAC will have larger than usual number of candidates to pick from. By the end of June, an unprecedented 209 Democrats have started raising money to challenge sitting House Republicans in 2018.

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