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Our 2023 Election Victory Lap Continues With Gloating-Filled Stop In Pennsylvania!
Democrats solidify their pro-abortion, pro-democracy majority on state supreme court.
Last week, Democratic Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery defeated Republican Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Carluccio in the state supreme court election. It wasn’t close: McCaffery’s margin of victory was six percent (53 to 47) and 200,000 votes (1.6 million to Carluccio’s 1.4 million). Considering how close these races usually are, this was arguably a rout.
“This was, you know, Notre Dame football versus Little Sisters of the Poor,” McCaffrey said, making a reference that I’m sure is relevant. “When Carolyn Carlucci called me the other night, she said, you know, you got this, this wasn’t close. This was a mandate you got.”
However, the results are consistent with what we saw in several states this past Tuesday. Voters turned out in force to protect abortion rights and basic democracy.
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Democrats swept the other judicial races, as well. They also won key county commission races. That might not seem very sexy but the county commission offices also serve as the boards of election in most of Pennsylvania. According to Bolts’ Daniel Nichanian, the commissions have “a startling amount of discretion to shape ballot access in their counties, from deciding whether to install any ballot drop boxes allow voters to fix mistakes on mail ballots.”
Victory didn’t come cheap, particularly in the prominent state Supreme Court race. An estimated $22 million was spent on the race, with labor unions, trial lawyers, and billionaires all contributing. It was a stark change from past judicial elections that were considered “sleepy affairs.” These elections are already partisan, but the candidates weren’t shy about campaigning like full-fledged politicians.
From the AP:
McCaffery also made a point of discussing issues on the campaign trail, something judicial candidates had generally avoided in the past.
He framed the election as an existential moment for basic rights, and painted state courts as the last line of defense against the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
McCaffery wasn’t guilty of hyperbole when he talked up the stakes. Democrats held a 4-2 majority even with the vacancy, but this still resulted in some deadlocks on important election cases when a Democratic justice sided with the Republicans. That’s far less likely now with McCaffery securing a 5-2 majority.
In addition to the record-breaking spending, the state supreme court race received national media coverage and the highest turnout for a non-presidential election in at least 25 years. Democrats apparently learned a hard lesson from the 2021 supreme court race when they were outspent by more than $1 million. Republican Kevin Brobson narrowly defeated Maria McLaughlin by just 25,000 votes or a single percentage point.
Democratic focus groups revealed that undecided voters reacted poorly to an anti-abortion candidate insulting their intelligence with transparent attempts to hide a forced-birth position. I call this the Amy Coney Barrett Effect.
Pennsylvania Democrats hammered Carluccio on reproductive freedom and didn’t let voters forget that she had the endorsements of anti-abortion groups. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party Chair Sharif Street had no regrets about prioritizing abortion rights during this campaign.
“The Republicans made it an issue when they chose to strip away a woman’s right to choose, when they went to court to do that,” Street said, “when they continue to introduce legislation in Pennsylvania to restrict safe, legal abortions.”
Prior to the election, Turn PA Blue’s Jamie Perrapato didn’t think they’d have a problem motivating the Democratic base. “But the question is, ‘Is our base big enough to beat their base?’” Perrapato wondered.
The answer was a resounding “yes”: The state’s more Democratic-leaning areas, including suburban Philadelphia and Allegheny County, had the highest turnout. Democrats taking the courts as seriously as Republicans historically have might fundamentally change this game. It’s harder to lose when you’re actually playing for real.
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