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By Kate Huangpu | Spotlight PA
Democrat Daniel McCaffery defeated Republican Carolyn Carluccio to win a spot on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, ending a high-stakes race marked by attack ads and record-breaking spending that totaled tens of millions of dollars.
The Associated Press called the race for McCaffery just before 11 p.m. on Tuesday. Unofficial results show McCaffery with 53% of the vote to Carluccio’s 47%.
With this victory, Democrats have added to their majority on the seven-member court. The vacancy on the Nov. 7 ballot was created when former Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat, died last fall.
The state Supreme Court is the final stop for lawsuits in Pennsylvania. In recent years, the justices have issued critical rulings on the COVID-19 pandemic, voting access, and the environment. They also decided final congressional and legislative district lines, which help determine the balance of political power in Washington, D.C., and Harrisburg.
Groups that support abortion access backed McCaffery and framed the race as a must-win in a post-Roe v. Wade world. Political observers also called the race a litmus test for how this issue will drive voters in 2024.
With renewed attention on the importance of the high court, millions of dollars have poured into the race. McCaffery’s campaign raised over $3.9 million between the beginning of the year and shortly before Election Day, while Carluccio’s campaign raised nearly double that amount in the same period, $6.5 million.
Most of Carluccio’s donations came in the form of digital and TV ads, mailings, and more from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a PAC largely funded by Jeff Yass, Pennsylvania’s richest man and a supporter of alternatives to public schools.
Spending on the race also apparently broke records, exceeding $22 million as of early November, according to the Associated Press.
Much of that total represents independent expenditures on ads, canvassing, mailers, and more by groups that are prohibited from consulting with the campaign they’re supporting.
Pennsylvanians for Judicial Fairness — a PAC funded by a coalition of union organizations, the association representing Philadelphia trial lawyers, and abortion provider Planned Parenthood — spent $4 million in a single month to back McCaffery.
Carluccio and McCaffery said the negative ads and mailers paid for by these and other third-party groups were harmful.
Outside of her polling place Tuesday, Delaware County voter Cathy Mairs called the ads “ridiculous” and “too nasty.”
McCaffery was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he served on the Court of Common Pleas and worked as a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office. He joined the military at 18 and attended Temple University.
He was elected in 2019 to serve on Superior Court, a statewide bench that hears appeals in civil and criminal cases.
McCaffery won the May primary against fellow Superior Court Judge Deborah Kunselman with 60% of the vote. He was endorsed by the state Democratic party and trade unions such as the Pennsylvania Conference of Teamsters and the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council.
He said he ran for state Supreme Court because he believes that democratic institutions are under duress and being politicized. McCaffery was “highly recommended” by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which wrote that he has “sound knowledge of legal principles” and a history of “community involvement.”
McCaffery has long been involved in Democratic politics; he has volunteered as legal counsel for the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee and served as a member of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee.
Many ads attacking McCaffery centered on his relationships with Democratic political apparatuses in the state. Others targeted McCaffery for receiving at least two inappropriate emails from his brother, former state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.
Seamus McCaffery resigned in 2014 after an investigation found he had sent messages containing pornography from his government email address.
In an interview with KDKA, Daniel McCaffery criticized outside organizations for centering his brother’s resignation in their attack ads.
“Right away they tried tying me to an email scandal my brother, Seamus McCaffery, was involved in over 10 years ago that I had nothing to do with. That continued unabated, and I think you had people on the Democratic side retaliate,” McCaffery said.
Carluccio, a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas since 2010, was also highly recommended by the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Democrats and groups including Planned Parenthood said Carluccio was a threat to abortion access in the state. They cited endorsements by the PA Pro-Life Federation and the Pro-Life Coalition of Pennsylvania, as well as a resume that said she would be a “defender of … all life under the law.”
At a campaign event shortly before Election Day, Carluccio said she would “apply” the state’s abortion law, which bans the procedure after 24 weeks except in special cases. “I have no interest in taking away anyone’s rights,” she said.
Patricia McDermott, a voter in Delaware County, said Tuesday that abortion is one of the biggest reasons she came to her polling place.
“Ever since Trump got in, [it’s like] he has some sort of string and he’s holding them all hostage,” McDermott said.
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