Editor’s Note: This story is part of our Running Women project following 15 compelling women candidates in 2018.
Democratic candidate Chrissy Houlahan emerged this week as a victor in the national fight over fair elections, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unveiled a new district map that includes big changes to previously Republican gerrymandered districts.
The court redrew Pennsylvania’s district map to make it a more even playing field for the two major political parties. It stepped in because the GOP-controlled state legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolfe were unable to agree on a new map by the court’s deadline of Feb. 15. The court previously ruled that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor the Republicans.
The court’s map, which it said must be implemented in time for the midterm elections on May 15, replaces contorted districts — including Houlahan’s horseshoe-shaped 6th District — with cleaner, more compact ones. The result adds new districts that favor Democrats, and slightly reduces the number that favor Republicans. It also divides fewer counties and municipal areas, which was a major goal of the court.
The state-wide rebalancing ignited a tweetstorm from several high-profile political commentators. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn tweeted that “Democrats get everything they want,” while Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman labeled it “Democrats’ dream come true.”
For Houlahan, the map changes are especially consequential. The 6th District is arguably the most changed. The court amputated much of the old district’s more conservative-leaning areas, while it annexed moderate territory and the heavily Democratic city of Reading.
In the aftermath, outlets like CNN and The Philadelphia Inquirer pointed to Republican incumbent congressman Ryan Costello as the “biggest loser” — and to Houlahan as the candidate likely to unseat him. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed their rating of the race to “toss up” from “lean Republican.” Houlahan tweeted about the change, calling it “Exciting news!”
She also tweeted: “Pennsylvania has long been one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. I am grateful that today’s ruling has fixed this problem, and I look forward to running in #PA06 to bring my experience to Congress.”
Houlahan and her fellow Pennsylvania Democrats may be rejoicing, but the Republicans won’t go down without a fight — they are already threatening to challenge the map in federal court.
President Donald Trump urged them on, tweeting, “Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.” Referencing the former, gerrymandered map, he added: “Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”