Supreme Court Primary Gives Pennsylvania Parties What They Want

  • Republicans dominated advertising ahead of the primary
  • Four Democrats, two Republicans now sit on state’s high court

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Pennsylvania’s election for a new state Supreme Court justice will start out drama-free after the major political parties got the nominees they wanted.

Almost all of the $1 million spent on advertising heading into Tuesday’s primaries promoted the candidacy of Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Carluccio, and she won Republican nomination with 53% of the vote.

Between her own campaign’s spending and that of the Republican State Leadership Committee, about $966,000 was put into commercials buttressing Carluccio, according to data compiled by AdImpact.

She defeated Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, who briefly stalled the state’s certification of Joe Biden’s narrow 2020 victory.

Source: AdImpact
Image of a campaign ad for Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate Carolyn Carluccio

In two statehouse districts, the judicial contest was accompanied by special elections to fill state House vacancies. Democrats kept control of that chamber after winning a pivotal seat with a boost from President Joe Biden’s endorsement.

With Democrats reamaining in charge of the House, a proposed constitutional amendment opposing abortion rights is unlikely to advance.

Slim Spending

In the contest to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court, Democrats nominated Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Daniel McCaffery (D), who had his party’s endorsement over another Superior Court judge, Deborah Kunselman. Kunselman wasn’t on TV at all, and McCaffery’s ads cost a slim $57,000, according to AdImpact.

Both nominees have stressed their credentials and endorsements.

They’re also both from the corner of Pennsylvania with the biggest voter population, so there won’t be a natural geographic edge in November—though it may have helped in the primaries, as voters pick from a ballot that lists each candidate’s home county.

Primary wins “are always all about turnout,” and that gives an edge to candidates from larger population centers, said Chris Bonneau, a political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Source: AdImpact
Image from a campaign ad for Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate Daniel McCaffery

Carluccio is a former chief public defender and chief deputy solicitor for Montgomery County, in the Philadelphia suburbs.

McCaffery served as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and as a judge on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas before his election to the Superior Court in 2019.

He’s also the brother of a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice. Seamus McCaffery (D), who created “Eagles Court” for unruly football fans in Veterans Stadium in the late 1990s, retired in 2014 following a suspension imposed by his fellow justices amid allegations of misconduct, including exchanging emails containing pornography with employees of the state attorney general’s office.

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The philosophical balance of Pennsylvania’s top court isn’t in jeopardy no matter who wins in November, a reality reflected in the relatively small campaign budgets compared with this year’s other state Supreme Court contest, in less-populous Wisconsin.

There, ad spending topped $6 million in the primary and $31 million by the general election.

Now that the political parties have the starting point they wanted, their next challenge is to prod November turnout without the help of a higher-profile race to rally voters. “The question is, what’s motivating people to the polls in these off-year elections?” Bonneau said.

The winner of the November general election will join four Democrats and two Republicans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Kay in Philadelphia at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at; Loren Duggan at

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