How Pennsylvania women did in the 2018 primary — and what that means for November

The ballots won’t look like they did in 2016.

State Rep. candidates Sarah Innamorato and Summer Lee won their Democratic primary on Tuesday.

State Rep. candidates Sarah Innamorato and Summer Lee won their Democratic primary on Tuesday.

Courtesy of LINDSAY DILL PHOTOGRAPHY / Summer Lee campaign
MJ Slaby

In a record year for women running for office, the primary victories of state rep. hopefuls like Sara Innamorato and Summer Lee were part of a larger wave of women advancing from the primary to the General Election across Pennsylvania.

In November, the number of women candidates on ballots for the Pa. General Assembly will have doubled since 2016, in a state criticized for its lack of women lawmakers. Pennsylvania was one of four states to get an “F” ranking in female political representation for 2018 from Representation 2020 Project, a national organization aiding female political candidates.

But that could be getting better.

In the 2016 election, roughly 87 percent of women running for general assembly advanced to the general election, said Jennie Sweet-Cushman, assistant director of Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University. This year, it was 89 percent.

While the percentages stayed about the same, you can see the change in the number of candidates, she said: 65 advanced in 2016 and 118 will go forward this year.

However, those 118 women make up just 32 percent of Tuesday’s winners, Sweet-Cushman noted, meaning a majority of winners were men.

Similar to past years, there were many uncontested general assembly primaries, but places with challengers — like the 21st and 34th Districts in Allegheny County — saw interesting dynamics and heated contests, she said.

More than just the number of women running, there’s reason to believe that this year’s candidates might do better than in the past in November, since there are more women incumbents and better trained candidates, Sweet-Cushman said.

The bipartisan center at Chatham has a training program called Ready to Run, and 14 of its 20 graduates won Tuesday in general assembly and U.S. Congressional races, she said. For Emerge, a training program for Democratic women, 17 of 20 graduates won, per the organization’s Twitter.

In the past, women’s candidacies started in different ways than they seemed to this year, Sweet-Cushman said. Women candidates were previously seen as “sacrificial lamb” candidates by both parties, which knew the candidate wouldn’t win her race but wanted to show they were supportive of women running.

This time, it seemed that women were running because they wanted to and did so with party backing, grassroots backing or neither, she said. Sweet-Cushman has previously noted the influence of the 2016 presidential election on women candidates, especially when it comes to running for state and national office.

“The pieces came together, and these are not lambs. They’re really strong candidates,” she said. “If that’s a trend, that’s a good sign.”

Pa. women in Congress

The Pa. Congressional delegation has 20 members and no women, making it the largest state without a female member, HuffPost reported.

But that’s going to change in 2018.

Eight women candidates — seven Democrats and one Republican — emerged from the primaries for U.S. House, and that’s “undoubtedly” the largest number of women to make it to the general election for U.S. Congress, Sweet-Cushman said.

She added that a lot of the success is attributed to the candidates being Democrats running in new districts that were redrawn to eliminate a GOP advantage.

In the 5th Congressional District, in southeastern Pa., two women will compete in November, meaning there will be at least one woman from Pa. in the U.S. House next year, she said, adding that women candidates in the 4th, 6th and 7th districts (all in the eastern part of the state) also have a good chance at winning in November.

Locally, Bibiana Boerio won a four-way Democratic Primary to face Republican Guy Reschenthaler in District 14. Janis Brooks lost her fourth attempt to beat current U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle in District 18.

In the race for U.S. Senate, no women were on the ballot. Republican Laura Ellsworth lost her bid for governor and none of the five women — three Republicans and two Democrats — competing for lieutenant governor advanced.