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Jennifer O'Mara
Photo from Jennifer O'Mara

The 2018 midterms will see an unprecedented number of women running for office — a demographic that currently makes up only 18.5 percent of Pennsylvania's General Assembly. Among these women is Jennifer O’Mara, a 2017 graduate of Penn's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences who works at Penn admissions.

O’Mara is one of the many women currently running for one of the 228 open seats on the Pennsylvania General Assembly to represent the 165th District, a decision she made after Trump was elected.

O'Mara said she was worried that a Trump presidency might put public services such as state-funded health care and public education in jeopardy. She decided to take action and run for office to represent working class people in the 165th District, which includes the townships of Springfield, Marple, Radnor, and the borough of Morton. 

“Right now in Harrisburg there aren’t enough women, there aren’t enough young people, there aren’t enough people of color, and there aren’t enough working people,” O’Mara said. 

O’Mara is one of 27 women who make up the 2018 cohort of Emerge Pennsylvania, a branch of the Emerge America organization that helps women run for office. Emerge Pennsylvania was founded by state Reps. Mary Jo Daley (D-Pa.) and Tina Davis (D-Pa.).

Credit: Alana Shukovsky

Executive Director of Emerge Pennsylvania Anne Wakabayashi said that the group works to “get more women in office at every level.” 

“We want to build a network of women around the state that can be a counter to the old boys network,” Wakabayashi said. She added that by training these female candidates together, Emerge Pennsylvania is “able to give them a network and a support system.” 

“As they’re climbing the ladder they’re bringing up people behind them,” Wakabayashi said.

According to Wakabayashi, six members of Emerge PA’s current class are running for office this year, and the organization, which was founded in 2015, has trained a total of 15 candidates that will be running in 2018. 

These women are part of an unprecedented number of female candidates running for office this year in states across the country. News organizations and political scientists following this trend believe that the prominence of the #MeToo movement as well as demeaning comments from President Donald Trump have inspired women to take politics into their own hands.

"Trump galvanized a bunch of people to become more involved, but that infrastructure that has been being built over the past 15 years," Political Science professor Dawn Teele said in an email. The infrastructure she is referring to are groups like Emerge America, which was founded in 2005, and Emily's List, which was founded in 1985. Both are groups which aim to help women, especially Democratic women, get elected. 

In Pennsylvania there are women running on every level of government, from governor to U.S. senator to Pennsylvania house representative. Pennsylvania is currently ranked 49th nationally when in comes to female representation in elected office. With fresh faces like O'Mara, these coming midterms have the potential to bring more women to office in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.