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Although two qualified women are running for governor this year, their sluggish poll performance thus far has nothing to do with their gender, two of Pennsylvania s most savvy female politicos said Monday.
Christine Toretti, finance co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Siobhan Sam Bennett, former president of the Women s Campaign Fund, said former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz are because of frontrunner .
I don t think it s their gender, said Toretti, the Indiana County businesswoman and Pennsylvania s RNC committeewoman. I think that Tom Wolf has just done a masterful, masterful video plan and has really moved himself up dramatically. And the message that he s getting out is really, incredibly powerful.
Bennett, a failed candidate for Congress in 2008 and Allentown mayor in 2001, agreed.
But as a Schwartz supporter, she said the Montgomery County congresswoman s campaign plans to emulate Barack Obama s steady rise to beat Hillary Clinton to the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
She [Schwartz] has husbanded her money to do a strong ad buy that just went up at the very end, said Bennett. Remember Hillary Clinton was way out in front of Obama. But Obama [finished strong], and that s the strategy that Allyson Schwartz is following.
Bennett and Toretti s comments came as guest speakers for the inaugural meeting of the Pennsylvania Women s Forum, a group created in Harrisburg last year to share solutions to challenges facing women. The first forum addressed Pennsylvania's low ranking for women in higher office.
In a recent University of Minnesota study, Pennsylvania earned a D- grade for electing women. The commonwealth s 10 women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives since 1989, tied Arkansas in 35th place.
And although women comprise about 52 percent of the state s population, just 17.7 percent of statewide officeholders are female, compared to the 23 percent national average, according to the study.
Further, Pennsylvania has yet to elect a woman governor, or U.S. Senator.
But Toretti and Bennett said commonwealth women share in the culpability for their poor political representation.
We re so reluctant to toot our own horns, Toretti said of women's general reluctance to run for eleted office.
We don t believe we re worthy, she added later.
However, both women acknowledged that sexism remains a major impediment for women seeking higher office.
Bennett, who entered politics after a successful career in executive sales, said she was unprepared for the vicious sexism she faced when seeking public office.
I thought I d seen it all, Bennett said in the forum conducted at Widener University Law School. It turns out in the wild and wooly world of U.S. politics, I hadn t seen anything.
She said her 2008 congressional campaign prompted a vicious blog post that described her as a phony political whore with plastic genitals, and assessed her ability to perform oral sex.
The misogynistic quote, she said, was also carried on the front page of Allentown s major newspaper.
That woke me up, Bennett said of her political experience before joining the national nonprofit dedicated to achieving parity for women in public office.
If this is what I went through in Allentown, Pa., I can only imagine what women across the country are going through, she added, urging all the women in attendance to support female candidates no matter their party.
The result, she said, would advance universal women's issues and put an end to ineffective legislatures at the state and federal level.
The gridlock of Washington is a gender-based problem, and every shred of research shows that, Bennett said. If we simply have more women, we would not have the gridlock. And that is also true of Harrisburg.
Toretti, one of the most well connected women in national politics, backed that up by pointing U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who intervened to stave off a federal shutdown last year.
She went and grabbed Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, and they went and grabbed two colleagues across the aisle, and they basically embarrassed the Senate [saying] C mon. Put your big boy pants on and let s get this done , Toretti said.
They were the ones that were able to make the difference, she added. If we are not there, we cannot stop this; we can t stop the general dynamic of men who are still like on the football field.
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