Women are running in large numbers in pa. but still finding it hard to compete

WASHINGTON – Following the election of President Trump, women are running for office at record-breaking rates across the country. But Democratic women in Pennsylvania, are finding that in order to be competitive, they’ve got to break a glass ceiling within their own party first.

“A lot of these women did not realize just how ‘good old boys’ the party structure was and now that they’re interested in giving it a shot they’re saying ‘why isn’t anyone backing me?’” said Jennie Sweet-Cushman, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University. Sweet-Cushman said that in Pennsylvania having the local party’s support still holds a lot of power — it can influence who donates money and which elected leaders back you — and that endorsement is still usually going to a man.

The “good old boys network” is “much more prevalent in the Democratic Party, which is a little bit ironic when you look at patterns elsewhere in the country where women have done much better in the Democratic Party,” Sweet-Cushman said. It’s not that the party leaders are intentionally trying to box out women, she said, it’s just that men tend to be the ones in power so when it’s time to recruit, they go with who they know.

Pam Iovino, the former assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs and a Navy veteran, had hoped to capture the Democratic nomination in the 18th Congressional District last fall. But Lamb was chosen instead during the special elections delegate process.

After Lamb won the 18th district, under the new map he had to file for re-election in the state’s 17th district, were Beth Tarasi, a lawyer, was already running. But Tarasi left the race after it became clear that the party would be supporting Lamb. It is not unusual for the local party to support the incumbent.

“It was disappointing to see the lack of institutional support for their campaigns,” Gardner said. “Until our party gatekeepers prioritize supporting good women candidates it is going to be a struggle to change the number of women in office in Western Pennsylvania.”

“You hear a lot of lip service saying ‘we support women, we support women’ but people here only do it if it’s convenient for them,” said Chelsa Wagner, the County Controller for Allegheny County which is in the southwestern region. Wagner is also a former member of the state House.

Wagner along and a handful of other Democratic women started a political action committee called Women for the Future Pittsburgh, or WTF for short. The group is focused on helping women get enough financial and strategic support to be competitive in races in the western region.

USA TODAY interviewed more than a dozen people and found that most Democratic women across the state felt they faced a more difficult path than men in getting their party’s endorsement and securing financial assistance. However, those on the state’s eastern side generally said they felt better included and were more optimistic about the future than those on the western side.

Leslie Anne Miller, who was general counsel to former governor Edward Rendell and a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s run for president, said despite Pennsylvania being “a neanderthal state when it comes to opportunities for women” she’s optimistic 2018 is the year things change. Miller said women are are “mad as hell about what is not being done” and are ready to shake things up — at the candidate level and by providing support behind the scenes.