Political neophyte Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania's next attorney general, ran a smart, disciplined campaign against an unpopular governor and "the Harrisburg boys." She seized on such emotional issues as the Jerry Sandusky investigation - initiated when Gov. Corbett was attorney general - and a legislative proposal that would require women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion.
She used the purported "war against women" and won big, garnering in excess of three million votes Tuesday - more than the Pennsylvania totals of President Obama or Sen. Bob Casey - and besting her opponent by more than 14 percentage points.
Kane's success is even more striking because she did this in Pennsylvania, the land where progress goes to die. She is the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general in a state that has never elected a woman governor or senator, only one mayor of either major city, and has precisely one female representative in Washington.
Let me remind you that the year is 2012. Says Muhlenberg College political scientist and pollster Chris Borick: "We've created an absolutely horrible record in electing women into office."
And, I might add, a legislature that has an absolutely horrible record on women's issues, being abnormally obsessed with restricting women's reproductive health.
"When I first started running, strategists told me I was one of the first women to run for a major office from either major party, and I thought, 'That's crazy,' " Kane told me last week.
Campaigning, she found her outrage was widely shared. "Everywhere I went, people were offended, men and women, regardless of party, about mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds."
She capitalized on Pennsylvanians' dissatisfaction with the direction in Harrisburg, a crowd-pleaser every time. (After all, Corbett won the governor's office after indicting a slew of legislators.) "Could have been Sandusky and concern for our children," she said of the key to her victory. "Whether it was because of women, and all the legislation that they passed. It could have been voter ID. Or it could have been everything that is going on."
The Republicans have a serious woman problem, one that was exacerbated during the campaign season. Who would have thought that rape, defined by some candidates as "legitimate" or pregnancies resulting from them as "something God intended," would have played so prominent a role? Weren't jobs and the economy supposed to dominate the national discourse?
Pennsylvania mirrored the national gender gap, with 56 percent of women voters preferring Obama. Women also hold a registration advantage nationally and in Pennsylvania.
Registered Democratic voters far outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania, 50 to 37 percent (the remainder are independents or members of a third party). The commonwealth voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections. Says state Democratic chairman Jim Burn: "This is no longer a swing state."
Yet there remains a serious disconnect, partly because of the state's old-school political structure, dominated by men and political conservatives, including the governor, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, and the Republican leadership in both chambers of the legislature.
"The deeper fundamental problem is that the political culture is male-dominated," said Terry Madonna, director of Franklin and Marshall's Center for Politics. "The Republican Party has had the edge in organization, while the Democrats run elections that are won with exceptional candidates."
Kane launched her campaign challenging former Rep. Patrick Murphy, the choice of much of the Democratic leadership.
With such a huge edge in registration, Democrats are hoping to break the commonwealth's entrenched pattern, dating back to 1970, of one party holding on to the governorship for two terms before the post switches to the other. "They are in disarray, with no connection to any demographic but middle-aged white men," Burn said. "We're not obsessed with what a woman does with her body. On social and economic issues, women support our candidates."
The party's top priority is making Corbett a one-term governor. When does that effort start? "We began Tuesday," Burn said.
The climate in Harrisburg should get considerably hotter next year, after Kane assumes office. As a candidate, Kane promised to investigate Corbett's handling of the Sandusky case when he was attorney general, telling the Scranton Times-Tribune editorial board that it was "probably politics" that caused the delay in charging the former Penn State assistant football coach. In response, Corbett accused Kane of "a reckless disregard for the truth on her part."
Kane told me, "I think Pennsylvania voters are tired of being represented by the narrow view of one party." Of her win, she said: "It feels wonderful. It is a responsibility that I take on wholeheartedly. And I'll encourage other women to run, and dream big."