HOW SHE DID IT
How Mary Gay Scanlon separated herself to win in 5th district race
Mary Gay Scanlon greets voters outside the Helen Kate Furness Library in Wallingford Tuesday on Primary Election Day. Scanlon beat out nine other Democrats to snag the nomination in the new 5th Congressional District. She will face Republican Pearl Kim, who ran unopposed.
“We’re finally going to have a woman representing Pennsylvania in the (U.S.) House of Representatives. That’s not something that’s a small issue.” — Wes Leckrone, associate professor of political science at Widener University
It was a female wave that crashed over Pennsylvania politics Tuesday as four U.S. congressional districts, including the 5th, found women victorious in a place where women had never been.
“We’re finally going to have a woman representing Pennsylvania in the (U.S.) House of Representatives,” Wes Leckrone, associate professor of political science at Widener University, said. “That’s not something that’s a small issue.”
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, agreed.
On Wednesday, he tweeted, “It looks like 8 women in PA have won nominations for Congress, 7Ds and 1R. If we subtract 4D male incumbents that won, women will make up 50 percent of the D candidates in the state. That’s historic!”
He extrapolated on that later in the day.
“We’ve never elected a female governor,” Madonna said. “We’ve never elected a female senator. We are seeing an energy level to elect women in this state ... We do not have a single woman in the Pennsylvania delegation.”
That changed Tuesday night.
“What’s basically going on is ‘The Year of the Woman,’” Madonna said.
He pointed to four congressional districts as examples of that trend.
Here in Delaware County, Mary Gay Scanlon of Swarthmore captured the Democratic nomination with 14,113 votes in Delaware County; 971 votes in Philadelphia; and 1,760 votes in Montgomery County for the 5th Congressional District. She will face Republican Pearl Kim of Radnor in the fall.
Also, state Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-153 of Abington, won the Democratic nomination for the 4th U.S. Congressional District, covering most of Montgomery County and a part of Berks County, and Chrissy Houlahan was voted the Democrat’s choice for the 6th U.S. Congressional District, which includes all of Chester County and another part of Berks County.
In the Lehigh Valley, Susan Wild won the Democratic nomination for the 7th U.S. Congressional District. All these districts were redrawn this year by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court following a suit by Democratic voters who said the districts in 2011 were gerrymandered. The court agreed with that and had their appointed expert, Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily redraw the lines after the Pennsylvania Legislature was unable to reach an agreement on what the new districts should look like.
Leckrone said this event caused the Democratic field to swell in the 5th.
“Part of the amazing thing was the energy surrounding this race with the redrawing,” he said. “That’s why you got the 10 candidates.”
He added that part of the thought process for them was, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot for me.”
“That person – unless they do something (that) involves corruption will probably have the seat until they decide to retire,” Leckrone said.
Some of these primary wins may potentially end up twice on the ballot in November. After former U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-7 of Chadds Ford, stepped down, Gov. Tom Wolf set a special election for the district to coincide with the general election.
The party committees in each of the counties included in the 7th District will make their own recommendations to their state committees, who will make the final nomination for the Democratic and Republican candidates to be placed on the special election ballot.
This election, Madonna said voters were influenced by three factors: Progressive women in support of gun control following the Parkland, Fla., massacre; the #metoo movement; and a backlash against the president.
“We have fierce animosity to President Trump that looms very large in this,” he said.
In addition, Leckrone said primaries attract a different crowd than general elections.
“The people who tend to vote in primary elections tend to be more ideological than the rest of their party,” he said. “Your voter in a Democratic primary is more liberal than the average Democrat.”
Leckrone spoke about how Scanlon emerged victorious.
He explained that with more liberal Democrats coming out, Scanlon “was a very attractive candidate for that. Looking at the results from Swarthmore, she took almost 90 percent of the votes there and that’s a
pretty liberal area.”
He said Scanlon’s ads had former Gov. Ed Rendell saying she’s “Trump’s nightmare.”
“If you’re an energized Democrat, that’s like, ‘Yes!’” Leckrone said. “All of this is kind of drive by this anti-Trump movement.”
He said Rich Lazer, who won the vote in Philadelphia with 4,822 votes, or almost 41 percent of the vote, but failed to gain a significant lead in Delaware County.
“There just weren’t enough voters from Philadelphia,” Leckrone said. “This is a Delco district now. The Philadelphia people tried to take it, to see what they could do, but it didn’t work out that way.”
The fact that Scanlon could announce her congressional campaign 80 days ago and win the nomination may seem exceptional in regular years, but this was no regular year, Leckrone said.
“The state Supreme Court basically redrew the map so everything was in flux,” he said. “There’s nothing normal about what’s happening.”
Leckrone laid out some strategies as the 5th district contenders now eye the fall.
“In general, just the normal year, the presidential party tends to lose seats in the house,” he said. “It’ll be a real uphill battle for Kim to beat Scanlon just based on the demographics.” Yet it can be done, he said. “Kim’s going to have to try to moderate herself and probably distance herself from Trump,” Leckrone said, adding that she’ll have to talk to the middle.
In addition, he said, “I think Scanlon’s a big test for Democrats across the country.”
However, there have been a lot of Democrats nominated across the country, so Leckrone said the 5th District is no longer a bellwether case.
“If it were Meehan ... that would’ve been one of the most closest watched races in the country,” he said.
Democratic congressional candidate Mary Gay Scanlon greets voters outside the Furness Library in Wallingford on Tuesday.