Pa. women lead charge for Congress

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Madeleine Dean celebrates a victory in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District with Rabbi Larry Sernovitz and granddaughter Aubrey Cunnane, 6.

Madeleine Dean celebrates a victory in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 4th Congressional District with Rabbi Larry Sernovitz and granddaughter Aubrey Cunnane, 6. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

For full primary election results: Pennsylvania Department of State

In an election rich with national implications, Democratic voters in the Philadelphia region have chosen three women to represent the party in Congressional elections almost certain to alter the shape of Pennsylvania’s delegation to Washington.

The primaries set up a general election likely to make the six-member delegation from the Philadelphia more Democratic, and more gender-balanced.

Attorney Mary Gay Scanlon in Delaware County, state Rep. Madeleine Dean in Montgomery County, and former Air Force Captain Chrissy Houlahan in Chester County will run for Congress in races national analysts say are theirs to lose.

“Tonight we have made it possible for this new district, for the first time, to be represented by a Democrat in Congress, and to be represented by a woman in Congress,” Scanlon told cheering supporters in Swarthmore Tuesday night.

Scanlon won the 5th Congressional district, comprised of all of Delaware County and a piece of south and southwest Philadelphia.

She scored a convincing win over Rich Lazer, a candidate from the Philadelphia part of the district who had the benefit of more than $600,000 in outside spending by a labor-funded Super PAC and Local 98 of the electricians union.

“I congratulated Mary Gay and hopefully I can help her push this blue wave forward and help her win,” Lazer said at his election night event in South Philadelphia.

There were 10 candidates in the primary field, and Haverford Township Democratic chairman Jack Stollsteimer said it appeared a lot of Delaware County party members coalesced around Scanlon, who for years has headed the pro-bono work of the national law firm Ballard Spahr.

Dean won easily in the 4th District in Montgomery County over former U.S. Rep. Joe Hoeffel and gun control activist Shira Goodman.

Houlahan was unopposed in the 6th District in Chester and Berks counties.

In the 1st District in Bucks County, wealthy philanthropist Scott Wallace won in the Democratic primary over former Navy attorney Rachel Reddick and environmental activist Steve Bacher.

In addition, attorney Susan Wild won a hard-fought Democratic primary in the new 7th district in the Lehigh Valley, setting up a battle with one of two Republican opponents who finished in a dead heat.

Prospects for big change

There’s still a general election race to run, but the early odds are the Philadelphia region alone will send three women to Congress in January, changing the shape of a state delegation that’s been all-male since 2015.

The game-changing election of 2018 is driven by three factors: Trump, re-districting and retirements.

The election of Donald Trump has energized progressive Democrats, generating more candidates, more contributions, and in all likelihood, more voters.

The anticipated “blue wave” would make things harder for the GOP in any case, but a dramatic re-districting in February changed the playing field in ways that helped Democrats, at least compared to the previous maps.

The new congressional boundaries imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after a gerrymandering case made districts that are clearly more compact, and all but one of the districts in the Philadelphia suburbs lean more or less Democratic.

And two formidable Republican Congressman in the region decided not to seek re-election this year.

Delaware County Rep. Pat Meehan opted for retirement after it was revealed he’d settled a sexual harassment claim by a staffer, and Chester County Rep. Ryan Costello decided to drop his candidacy after he’d filed to run, leaving the Republican party with no real opportunity to pick an experienced, well-known substitute.

First-time candidate and largely-unknown contender Greg McCauley was left alone on the GOP ballot.

November matchups

Here are the local races as they shape up for the general election:

-6th Congressional District (Chester & Berks counties) – Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, a former business owner who served in the Air Force, is regarded as a rising star in the party. She ran unopposed and has more than $1.5 million in her campaign fund. Republican Greg McCauley, an attorney and businessman, had less than $4,000 as of the most recent campaign finance report.

The Cook Political Report and Roll Call magazine rate the race as “likely Democratic.”

-4th Congressional District (Montgomery, Berks counties) – Democrat Madeleine Dean, who had the backing of Emily’s List and a host of local endorsements, will take on Skippack businessman Republican Dan David in November. The district is regarded by national analysts as decidedly Democratic-friendly, and a likely win for Dean. David ran unopposed for the Republican nomination.

-5th Congressional District (Mostly Delaware County, with a piece of south & southwest Philadelphia) – Of all the new suburban districts, the 5th is rated as the most Democratic-leaning, making Mary Gay Scanlon a heavy favorite over Republican Pearl Kim for election this fall.

The Delaware County Republican party is excited about their candidate, former prosecutor Pearl Kim, who ran unopposed. She’s determined to make a serious run and has invested $200,000 of her own money into the race, but the she has her work cut out for her.

-1st  Congressional District (Mostly Bucks, a bit of Montgomery County) – This district represents the Republicans’ best chance to hold the line against a Democratic charge this fall. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is a one-term incumbent, but his brother Mike held the district before him, giving him the advantage of a family brand.

Fitzpatrick has been careful to keep some distance from President Trump, and presents himself as a pragmatic, independent representative for the district.

Around the state

Coming into this year, Democrats held only five of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional seats, despite having 800,000 more registered voters than Republicans.  The new districts and an anticipated Democratic surge will certainly alter that picture, but how much?

If results in the Philadelphia area follow current predictions (with Scanlon, Dean, and Houlahan winning), Democrats will pick up a net two seats, giving the party seven, compared to the Republicans 11 in the state.

But if things really swing the Democrats’ way, they could win as many as 10 seats, leaving the GOP eight. Here are the other battlegrounds:

The 7th District in the Lehigh Valley has no incumbent. Allentown Republican Charlie Dent decided to end his congressional career.

Democratic winner Susan Wild will take on either Marty Nothstein or Dean Browning who finished in a dead heat in the Republican primary, in a district that national analysts say “leans Democratic.”

Democrats also have hopes for the new 17th District at the western edge of the state, where it’s a battle of two incumbents — Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, the Marine Corps vet who won a special election in March, and Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, who’s running in territory that’s part new, part familiar.

If Democrats manage to take that race and oust Fitzpatrick in Bucks County, they’ll dramatically alter the state’s delegation and make a big contribution to winning the U.S. House for the party.

But that’s six months away, and a lot can happen. If the economy roars, the president has success in North Korea, and investigations into his conduct fizzle, Republicans may hold the line in Pennsylvania and in Washington.

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