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Pennsylvania fields historic slate of women congressional candidates

| Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 5:15 p.m.
Bibiana Boerio, a former Ford Motor Co. executive, speaks during an Equal Pay Rally at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on Tuesday, April 04, 2017. The rally was organized by the Seton Hill University Feminist Collective.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Bibiana Boerio, a former Ford Motor Co. executive, speaks during an Equal Pay Rally at the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg on Tuesday, April 04, 2017. The rally was organized by the Seton Hill University Feminist Collective.

Pennsylvania, a state that experts call ground zero in the Democratic Party's battle to regain control of Washington, D.C., will see an unprecedented field of eight women seeking congressional seats on the November ballot.

The election guarantees that Pennsylvania's congressional delegation — a boy's club since the 2014 exit of Allyson Schwartz — will have at least one, if not more, female voices.

In suburban Philadelphia's 5th Congressional District, Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon faces Republican Pearl Kim.

Closer to home, Democrat Bibiana Boerio, 64, a retired Ford Motor Co. executive and one-time chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, will face Republican state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, 35, in the new 14th Congressional District. And Democrat Susan Boser, 61, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor, will face five-term incumbent Republican Glenn Thompson, 58, of Centre County in the new 15th District.

Boerio, of Unity, easily beat three men in the district that includes Greene, Fayette, Washington and part of Westmoreland County. She agreed to run when approached by several groups after volunteering in the special election that ushered Democrat Conor Lamb to office in the old 18th District.

She said the number of female candidates is a reflection of the time. Pennsylvanians saw a of number of congressional vacancies after the state Supreme Court redrew district lines at a time when grass-roots movements emerged around various issues.

“To me, it's a period of time where women are starting to understand they have a voice. And it's important as we look at the state that we think about inclusion and everyone having a voice. One aspect of that is gender representation,” Boerio said.

Boser, a first-time candidate, easily defeated opponent Wade Jodun. She said she was spurred to get involved by the Women's March on Washington, D.C., held in the wake of President Trump's inauguration in January 2017.

“It was energizing for a lot of women,” Boser said. “Women's Huddles have emerged in a lot of counties. I am a product of that. ... I saw a lot grass-roots organizing. #MeToo, the March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter were three factors I saw.”

Those movements created grass-roots energy around female candidates, said Jennie Sweet-Cushman, assistant director of the Chatham University Center for Women in Politics.

“I think that translated into better candidates and better campaigns,” she said. “In the past when we saw women on congressional tickets, they were sacrificial lambs.”

The momentum behind women candidates carried over to statehouse races in Western Pennsylvania. In eastern Allegheny County, first-time candidates Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato — both of whom identified as Democratic Socialists — beat incumbent mainstream Democrats Paul Costa and his cousin Dom Costa in primary races on Tuesday.

Pollster and political scientist Terry Madonna, of Franklin and Marshall College, noted that most of the female congressional candidates in Pennsylvania were Democrats. He thinks an anti-Trump sentiment coupled with the various movements played a role in that.

“If you take away the four incumbent Democratic congressmen, that leaves 14 seats — and half of the Democrats running for them are women,” he said.

Other Democratic women running for Congress this fall include state Rep. Madeleine Dean in the 4th District in Montgomery and Berks counties; Allentown attorney Susan Wild in the 7th district in the Lehigh Valley; Chrissy Houlahan in the 6th District, covering Chester County; and Jessica King in the 11th District in Lancaster County.

In Northwestern Pennsylvania, Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper was thrilled to watch election returns come in Tuesday night.

“I am still only the seventh woman to have served in Congress from Pennsylvania, and that is deplorable,” said Dahlkemper, who served in Washington from 2009-11. “A lot of it Tuesday was due to women getting up and running. Women were able to find the support, get up and run and then win. We know that women win as often as men when they put their names on the ballot.”

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996, derdley@tribweb.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.

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