They were two first-time candidates running for congressional seats in Pennsylvania. Both in their early 30s. Both former prosecutors. Both military veterans who served in the Pacific.
There was one big difference: Conor Lamb’s appeal as a fresh face and political outsider helped propel him to an upset victory in a March special election in a Pittsburgh-area district. Across the state in Bucks County, Rachel Reddick on Tuesday lost a Democratic primary by more than 20 points to millionaire Scott Wallace, who tapped his fortune to outspend her by nearly 8-to-1.
Reddick understood the challenge she was up against when it came to financial resources, but another obstacle caught her off guard. “One of the largest surprises for me was having people dismiss my experience,” she said. Again and again, she was branded as “a novice” out of her depth, Reddick recalled, something she contends “relates directly to my gender.”
So far, this has been a very good year for women running for office — including in Pennsylvania, the largest state in the country with an entirely male congressional delegation, and 49th out of 50 in the proportion of women in elected office.
That balance will likely change come January. A redrawn congressional map is expected to break the gerrymandered lock that Republicans have on much of the Keystone State. Democrats on Tuesday nominated three women — Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon and Madeleine Dean — in districts where they are expected to win in November. Another, Susan Wild, will be running in a district that could go either way.
The climate for female candidates — a byproduct of Trump-era backlash — is favorable enough to draw comparisons to the 1992 cycle, branded “the year of the woman.”
But hold the euphoria. Unlike the pathbreaking women who shook up politics a quarter-century ago, many of those running in 2018 are jumping in without having run for anything before.
So this is a learning experience, one that requires them to temper their idealism with a recognition they are dealing with forces that continue to work against women aspiring to elected office, and particularly those from outside the political establishment.
Those forces go beyond the kind of lingering gender bias that Reddick sensed.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, some female contenders struggled to win endorsements from local party committees. “It is