Ann Buddington likens the Russian government to a snake that "curls up to you before it eats you." And she thinks President Trump is its prey.
"Every little race matters," the 52-year-old nurse said Saturday morning outside her Cheltenham Township home, blaming voter apathy for Trump's election.
State Rep. Madeleine Dean nodded in agreement as she made her pitch to represent the Montgomery County-based Fourth Congressional District. Buddington said she was sold — and planned to drive a bunch of friends to the polls for the May 15 primary.
Asked by a reporter if the candidate's gender mattered in the three-candidate Democratic primary, Buddington said: "They need to get rid of all these grumpy old men in Congress. Try the woman for once."
A record number of women running for Congress — fueled by backlash to Trump and a broader cultural reckoning over abuse of power by men — are hoping voters agree. To many, the political moment feels like a redux of 1992, remembered as the Year of the Woman, when a record number of women were elected to Congress following the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who had been accused of sexual harassment; a round of redistricting; and a number of retirements.
Yet this Year of the Woman narrative is being tested in Philadelphia-area congressional races, even as Democrats look to Pennsylvania as ground zero in their bid to win back the House. In competitive Democratic primaries here, some of the men running have built name recognition over long careers in public office or are supported by groups with the ability to quickly raise a lot of money. Some women, by contrast, are first-time candidates.
The state Supreme Court offered a twist, ruling the old congressional map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and imposing one more favorable to Democrats. That helped create an unusual number of open seats, enhancing chances for women to break into the commonwealth's all-male 18-member House delegation. But the February court decision came so late in the primary calendar that candidates with established brands or personal wealth had an even greater leg up.
"Congressional races are big, expensive races, where you have to have a lot of money and a lot of friends," said Anne Wakabayashi, executive director of Emerge PA, which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. "And it's hard for any candidate, male or female, to come out of nowhere and run for these seats."
Democrats are confident that at least one woman will be heading to Washington. Chrissy Houlahan, a teacher and former Air Force engineer from Chester County, is running uncontested in the Sixth District Democratic primary. Even Republicans concede she will be tough to beat in November, especially since incumbent Rep. Ryan Costello is retiring.
But in competitive primaries, there are no slam dunks for women in the Philadelphia area. And the surge in women running is largely on the Democratic side, both here and nationally, so there will be a big drop-off after the primaries. Men are still running in far greater numbers than women.
Emily's List, a political group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is hoping to boost favored candidates, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on mail in Montgomery and Bucks Counties. One mailer in the Bucks-based First District highlights Rachel Reddick's Navy service and says she would stand up to Trump, "defend a woman's right to choose," and protect women and children.
Mailers in Montgomery County promote Dean, the state representative, as a "powerful voice for women" who would stand up to the National Rifle Association and strengthen education.
Emily's List has taken a more aggressive posture in the Lehigh Valley, supporting former Allentown City Solicitor Susan Wild and bashing longtime Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli as a pro-Trump conservative masquerading as a Democrat.
But there are still hurdles.
U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle and Dwight Evans, both Democrats, are favored to win reelection in Philadelphia.
In the Fifth District, which includes most of Delaware County and parts of South Philadelphia, 10 Democrats are competing for an open seat. Some analysts believe the big field gives the edge to Rich Lazer, a former aide to Mayor Kenney who lives in South Philadelphia, because of his strong support from organized labor. Philadelphia's electricians union has already contributed $500,000 to a pro-Lazer super PAC running television ads.
The field features six women, including two — Ashley Lunkenheimer, a former prosecutor, and Mary Gay Scanlon, a lawyer — who had raised the most money (about $400,000 each) in the race as of last month's filing deadline.
"In some quarters there is a wringing of hands," said Anna Greenberg, a Washington-based pollster and adviser to several Pennsylvania Democrats. "On the one hand, there's a full embrace about the number of women running. There is a fear, I think, that if so many women run in these different congressional districts that they'll split the vote, and that would allow the male to win. In real life that really hasn't happened."
The field is less crowded in Pennsylvania's First District, where Scott Wallace, a self-described "patriotic millionaire," has been airing television ads for weeks touting his anti-Trump bona fides in his race against Reddick and Steven Bacher. Reddick's message seems tailored, at least in part, to issues experts say poll well among women. In Reddick's ad, for example, the narrator highlights her advocacy for victims of domestic violence.
Wallace, endorsed by the county party, had raised about $1 million as of March 31 — three times as much as Reddick. Ninety percent of Wallace's haul came from personal loans. The winner is likely to face Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in November.
Perhaps nowhere is the gender dynamic as visible as in the neighboring Fourth District, which encompasses Democratic-leaning Montgomery County and part of Berks.
Montgomery County leaders were ecstatic about the new map, which for the first time in decades gave the county its own district. Three women jumped into the Democratic primary; one has since left.
But Democrat Val Arkoosh, chair of the county Board of Commissioners, declared a political emergency after Joe Hoeffel, a former congressman, entered the primary. Also running are Dean, the state representative, and gun-control advocate Shira Goodman.
"Given his residual name recognition, Joe has the power to knock out his two highly qualified opponents who remain in this race," Arkoosh said in a video posted on Facebook.
She called on Hoeffel — a congressman from 1999 to 2005 and later a county commissioner — to quit.
Hoeffel refused, and says he doesn't buy "the gender identity politics that says, well, if there's one or two or three women in the race, a man shouldn't enter that race."
Knocking on doors Saturday in Norristown, Hoeffel reminded voters of his history. "I used to be your congressman," he told an elderly woman, who said she remembered and would vote for him.
Dean said she doesn't want anyone to vote for her simply because she's a woman. But she says the state of affairs is shameful. "Pennsylvania sends 20 people to Washington to represent us, and not one is a woman," Dean says in a television ad that began airing Friday. "No wonder Congress is a mess."
The narrator describes her as a "mother, educator, [and] progressive reformer" who would ban assault weapons and "protect our health care from Trump."
Notably, male candidates are also running as champions of issues like pay equity. At a forum in South Philadelphia, Lazer, the former Kenney aide, called for more diversity in boardrooms so that workplace decisions "are not just made by a bunch of men."