EveryDistrict State Spotlight: Pennsylvania

The elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court confirms it: Republicans have successfully implemented a generational battle to take power of the executive and the judiciary branches and the federal and local legislatures. As Charles Blow said, Democrats now have to win. We have to think long-term about how to fundamentally rebuild our power to create a fairer, more just country.

At EveryDistrict, we believe Democrats need to start by winning state legislatures and by changing how Democrats do fundraising.

We’re less than a month away from Election Day 2018, and we still have time to accomplish both. In 2018, EveryDistrict is working in five key swing states where we see an opportunity for Democrats to win back power in the state legislature. One of those states is Pennsylvania, where Democrats have a strong chance to retake the legislature after years of Republican control. Read on to learn more about the political landscape in Pennsylvania and what you can do to support qualified candidates leading the state’s Democratic charge. With your help, these candidates have the chance to build progressive power from Allegheny County to Carbon County to Marple Township–and beyond.


While many might think of Pennsylvania as a blue state, Donald Trump’s victory punched a hole in the “blue wall” that Pennsylvania once represented in federal elections. On the state level, however, Republicans have long been influential. Republicans have controlled the State Senate since 1994, and currently have a 33-to-16 majority (with one vacancy). With the exception of a four-year period from 2007 to 2011, Republicans have controlled the State House since 1995, and currently have a 121-to-82 majority. These large majorities have given Republicans substantial power to push a destructive agenda in the Keystone State.

Despite Republicans’ longtime control of the state legislature, Democrats have a substantial opportunity to retake both chambers in 2018. To do so, Democrats need to win 10 State Senate seats and 20 State House seats.

In 2018, only the even-numbered State Senate seats are on the ballot. Even with that limitation, more than 10 State Senate seats are within reach. There are six even-numbered Senate Districts that lean Democratic (EveryDistrict’s LDI score is in parentheses next to the district number): Senate Districts 6 (10), 12 (1), 16 (8), 26 (10), 40 (2), and 46 (2). Then, there are four State Senate seats that lean only slightly Republican: Senate Districts 10 (-1), 24 (-5), 38 (-2), and 44 (-4).

In the State House, there are 18 seats that lean Democratic (EveryDistrict’s LDI score is in parentheses next to the district number): House Districts 18 (16), 49 (12), 58 (0), 61 (4), 74 (26), 120 (15), 142 (1), 146 (3), 150 (1), 151 (3), 152 (7), 157 (5), 162 (13), 163 (10), 170 (21), 176 (4), 177 (34), and 189 (6). There are 15 seats that lean only slightly Republican: 4 (-2), 10 (-1), 46 (-2), 51 (-1), 52 (-3), 53 (-2), 104 (-3), 122 (-1), 137 (-3), 155 (-4), 158 (-3), 165 (-2), 167 (-2), 168 (-4), and 183 (-2).

The fundamentals are in place for Democrats to win big in Pennsylvania in 2018. But can they capitalize on this opportunity?

The Candidates

In Virginia, one of the most overlooked aspects of Democrats’ sweeping victory there last year was the quality of the candidates who stepped up to run for office. Each of those candidates had a strong connection to their community and a compelling reason why they should represent that community in the state legislature.

In 2018, EveryDistrict has invested in 20 Pennsylvania State House candidates who share those characteristics. We’ve endorsed a diverse group of candidates, with one important attribute in common: they’ve all already demonstrated a commitment to their community, and they’re ready to take the next step by running for office. We’ve also chosen to endorse candidates in the districts on the bubble–those districts that aren’t necessarily the most Democratic, but districts that Democrats need to compete in to win the majority.

Many of our candidates have a background in education. Sara Johnson RothmanJoe Ciresi, and Kristin Seale have all served on their local school boards. Byron Timmons has volunteered on the Parent Council and Parent Faculty Association at his son’s school. Liz Hanbidge is a lawyer who teaches civics to local elementary and middle school students, and Mike Zabel is an attorney who previously served as a teacher at the middle school, high school, and college levels. Lauren Lareau runs a tutoring business to help high school students prepare for success in college and beyond, while Jenn O’Mara works for the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her Master’s degree.

Several of our candidates have spent years dedicated to public service. Steve MalagariPatty Smith, and Kara Scott all serve on their local town councils. Mary Popovich is currently serving her third term as Mayor of the Borough of West Newton. Christina Sappey has worked in Harrisburg for several State Representatives and State Senators. Joe Webster and Claudette Williams are veterans.

Other candidates have forged their own paths in business, design, and more. Amy Cozze built her own custom wedding cake business from the ground up and has since gained national acclaim. Danielle Otten has spent the majority of her professional career in marketing and hospitality and served on the executive teams of some of Philadelphia’s most notable hospitality brands. Melissa Shusterman founded her own business, Fedora Media, a digital production company. Adam Rodriguez is a graphic artist. Mike Doyle is ready to give back to the community that gave him a helping hand when he was struggling with alcoholism and addiction.

What’s At Stake

Pennsylvania’s blue leanings haven’t stopped its Republican legislators from attempting to implement an ultra-conservative agenda.

While other states have implemented common-sense gun safety measures in the wake of mass shootings, Pennsylvania Republicans have refused to do so. Pennsylvania does not have an assault weapons ban, nor does it ban bump stocks. The Republican-controlled legislature has also refused to invest in workers; Pennsylvania’s minimum wage remains at the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.

Pennsylvania college students graduate with more student debt on average than any other state. A Democratic legislature would invest in students and boost funding for higher education.

In 2017, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have implemented one of the strictest abortion bans in the country–banning abortion at 20 weeks, among other measures. Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast without a law protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. But Pennsylvania Republicans have refused to allow passage of the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, which would extend non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.

The Incumbents

Eighteen of EveryDistrict’s endorsed candidates are running against incumbents. Ten of those incumbents represent districts with a positive LDI, meaning in statewide elections those districts tend to vote for Democrats. But this hasn’t stopped these House members from voting for extreme, conservative pieces of legislation.

Justin Walsh (HD 58), Thomas Quigley (HD 146), and Jack Radar, Jr. (HD 176) have all co-sponsored legislation that would loosen gun safety measures and severely restrict women’s access to abortion. Catherine Harper (HD 61) has voted to restrict a woman’s right to choose, limit voting rights, and loosen gun safety laws. Frank Ferry (142) has co-sponsored several pieces of legislation to loosen gun safety laws. Todd Stephens (HD 151) and Warren Kampf (HD 157) have voted to restrict access to the ballot box, while Jamie Santora (HD 163) and Martina White (HD 170) have voted for several pieces of legislation that would restrict women’s access to health care.

Like their counterparts in districts with a positive LDI, the eight legislators in districts with a slightly negative LDI–districts that tend to vote for Republicans by a couple points that we see as winnable this year–have also voted for extreme, conservative pieces of legislation. Five of these legislators–Jason Ortitay (HD 46), Susan Helm (HD 104), Doyle Heffley (HD 122), Joe Emrick (HD 137), Eric Roe (HD 158), and Alexander Charlton (HD 165)–co-sponsored legislation that would restrict a woman’s right to choose, and Christopher Quinn (HD 168) voted for that legislation. Ortitay, Heffley, Emrick, and Becky Corbin (HD 155) have co-sponsored legislation to loosen gun safety laws. Helm and Heffley also co-sponsored legislation to restrict access to voting.

What You Can Do

As of the last filing deadline in June, EveryDistrict’s 20 candidates were behind in the money race by almost $400,000.

Several of our candidates have outraised their opponents in 2018, but 18 of our candidates are running against incumbents, meaning they have to face legislators with longtime connections to big money and special interest groups.

We know these candidates can win with support from people like you.

You can help close the gap by making a donation today directly to our Pennsylvania candidates. Whatever you can give–$5, $25, $100, or $500–will make a huge difference in making sure our candidates have the resources they need to fund their campaigns through Election Day.

We believe that, to win at the local level, Democrats need the dollars that will allow them to compete against the GOP’s big money that took over our states in the first place.

To combat this, and to help our candidates get the resources they need to win, we’re recruiting people like you to become fundraising champions.

Becoming a fundraising champion is not about being a big donor. It’s about donating at a level you’re comfortable with — and then organizing your friends to do the same. And, if your friends are inspired to take action, and some of their friends are also motivated, you can help make a sizable investment in a state legislative campaign.

That’s how we beat big money. With your help. And support from EveryDistrict along the way. Fundraising champions receive support from our professional team to raise money over a 4–6 week sprint. Every step of the way, we provide advice, guidance, and the tools you need to succeed.

To sign up today, click here.

Want to learn more? Visit our website, EveryDistrict.us, where you can learn more about our plans for 2018 and sign up for our email list. Questions? Send us a note at info@everydistrict.us.