As Pa. votes, abortion rights group EMILY’s List launches $1M push to flip the Legislature

The Pennsylvania House (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

By John L. Micek

Yet another well-funded and influential issues group is launching an effort to build the ranks of Democrats in the state House and Senate, and perhaps even flip both chambers in what party faithful will hope will be a reprise of 2018’s Blue Wave election.

The abortion rights group Emily’s List says it will spend more than $1 million to flip the General Assembly and install Philadelphian Nina Ahmad in the state Auditor General’s Office, the only open row office post this campaign cycle.

The push by EMILY’s List comes in addition to a $1.4 million campaign by Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun violence reduction group founded by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. In September, the group launched a digital and direct-mail campaign targeting a dozen state House seats, mostly in suburban Philadelphia, and a quartet of Senate seats.

In a statement exclusively obtained by the Capital-StarEMILY’s List said the Pennsylvania effort was part of a broader, nationwide effort to elect pro-abortion rights women Democrats to legislatures across the nation. With the U.S. Supreme Court all but guaranteed to swing more conservative with the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, advocates are bracing for abortion rights fights in state capitols across the country.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, has vetoed a host of Republican-authored bills aimed at severely restricting access to abortions or banning some procedures entirely. But Wolf is term-limited out of office in 2022, which means the Democrats need to expand their ranks, or seize control of both chambers entirely, to keep future anti-abortion bills at bay.

“Pro-choice Democratic women are key to flipping the Pennsylvania state House and Senate blue, and we’re proud to stand with our 35 endorsed candidates who will get the job done and with Nina Ahmad in her historic bid for auditor general,” EMILY”s List President Stephanie Schriock said. “While the Pennsylvania GOP continues to play politics during the ongoing pandemic, our candidates are focused on bringing relief to women and working families who continue to bear the brunt of this unprecedented economic and public health crisis. With early voting in full swing and so much at stake for reproductive freedom, health care, and redistricting in 2021, we are confident that our historic investment will make the difference in the final push toward Election Day and help get our women over the finish line.”

Democrats need to win four seats to tie the 50-member state Senate, and five seats to flip it. In the House, Democrats need to capture nine seats to take control of the 203-member chamber. All of the House and half the Senate face the voters this year.

With the exception of a brief idyll between 2006-2010, the House has been squarely in Republican hands since the 1990s. Democrats similarly have not been in the majority in the Senate since the 1990s. Democrats have been trying to whittle away at GOP advantages in both chambers, making major inroads in the 2018 midterm elections.

All told, EMILY’s List has endorsed 35 Democratic, pro-abortion rights women, incumbent and challengers alike, this cycle.

In the Senate, they are: Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, and Sen. Pam Iovino, D-Allegheny. And hopefuls Carolyn Comitta, currently a state House lawmaker from Chester County, Janet Diaz, who’s running in the Lancaster County-based 13th District; Amanda Cappelletti, who’s running in the Montgomery County-based 17th District, and Julie Slomski, who’s contending for the 49th Senate District seat in Erie County.

House incumbents getting the nod include Reps. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny; Summer Lee, D-Allegheny; Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery; Patty Kim, D-DauphinWendy Ullman, D-Bucks;  Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester; Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester; Christina Sappey, D-Chester; Leanne Krueger, D-Delaware; Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware; Kristine Howard, D-Delaware; Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, and Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia.

Democratic candidates who are challenging Republican incumbents or who are running in open seats include: Emily Kinkead (HD-20); Emily Skopov (HD-28); Marlene Katz (HD-29); Lissa Geiger Shulman (HD-30); Jessica Benham (HD-36); Michele Knoll (HD-44); Brittney Rodas (HD-105); Lindsay Drew (HD-106); Joanna Bryn Smith (HD-120); Jill Dennin (HD-147); Nancy Guenst (HD-152); Dianne Herrin (HD-156); Deb Ciamacca (HD-168); Claudette Williams (HD-176); Ann Marie Mitchell (HD-178), and Regina Young (HD-185).

John L. Micek is the Editor-in-Chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.