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How the GOP Lost the Supreme Court

PA Supreme CourtThe biggest revelation on Election Night 2015 was the fact that the Democratic Party had won all five contested judicial seats.

This sweep altered the balance the power in the State Supreme Court, giving the Dems a majority.

The results were quite surprising. After all, it has been established that in non-presidential election years, Republicans hold the advantage.

So why then did the GOP lose their majority in the state’s highest court? There are many answers but they all boil down to the fact that the Democrats outworked their counterparts.

It started with the selection of the candidates. With three open seats it was important to find a well-balanced trio that could run strongly together.

Christine Donohue was a Superior Court Judge with a long legal record in Pittsburgh but the ticket was carried by two well-known names in PA politics: Wecht and Dougherty. David Wecht is the son of the famous forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht while Kevin Dougherty is the brother of Philadelphia’s top labor leader John Dougherty. The inclusion of such prominent names from the commonwealth’s two biggest cities guaranteed money, attention and votes.

The GOP, on the other hand, went with three relatively unknown nominees. Judith Olson serves on the Superior Court but Michael George was from Adams County, nowhere near the critical suburban counties around Pittsburgh and Philly. Finally there was Anne Covey, who was from SEPA and appealed to Penn State alumni. Her poor rating from the Pennsylvania Bar Association, however, overshadowed all that.

Ultimately, though, when speaking with Republican insiders one factor kept coming up again and again: money.

Since Supreme Court elections are vitally important statewide contests that fly below most people’s radars, money is extremely important.

“I hate to say you can buy them, but you can,” one Republican consultant told PoliticsPA.

The issue for Republicans is that they were badly out-fundraised. Democrats were well-funded by their constituencies, labor unions and trial lawyers, while the business community never showed up for the GOP. For instance, Super PACs were formed for the Democrats but none materialized for the Republicans.

“Our side didn’t show up,” another Republican operative told me. “You can’t get outspent 7-to-1, you can get the best candidates in the world but it won’t matter if you’re outspent 7-to-1.”

So why didn’t the money come? Fatigue and complacency are the best possible answers.

As another GOP insider pointed out, Democrats believe gerrymandered redistricting severely hurt them in 2010 and the Court would be their best avenue to fight back in 2020. Furthermore, many donors felt tapped out after the 2014 midterms, which were a major success for the Republican Party.

You could say the GOP were victims of their own substantial majorities in the legislature.

On the other hand, Democrats feel they have the advantage in any statewide race as they involve a larger and more diverse electorate.

Of course, motivation won’t be a problem next year, with Presidential, Senate, Attorney General and Congressional races on the ballot. As a result, the best way to find out if Election Night 2015 was a fluke is to watch the results of Election Night 2016.

19 Responses

  1. Voters are voting party affiliation more now than at any point in at least 40 years. Advantage Dems.

  2. republicans lost because they had mediocre candidates like Olsen –a less than spectacular ComCt judge who couldn’t even file campaign finance statements accurately– and Covey, whose negative rating from PBA was well deserved. of course, to quote a certain republican president — don’t mediocre people deserve representation on the Supreme Court, too?

    it helped that Wecht’s dad could pour 1/2 million into his campaign, and that Dougherty’s bro controlled all the union $$$$ . that leaves Christine Donahue, who simply was a terrific candidate with wide public and trial lawyers appeal. so be it…

  3. The best part is that the fundraising sand spending by the D’s was actually defensive. The Rs had been promising an onslaught of our of state money would show up, but never did. The fact that some of them floated that rumor early motivated donors to write bigger checks to the D’s.

  4. The budget gridlock has demonstrated that the Republicans can be the Forgotten Taxpayer’s friend. Gov. Wolf has made it easier with his overreach.

  5. Republcans are done in this state, period. They had the ball and fumbled badly. Now they will pay the price for their intransigence. Voters are so miffed at the budget debacle, they will not be so forgiving in the next general election. The Republicans can throw all kinds of money in the races, however they will still lose. They have shown their true colors and have revealed themselves for the fascist traitors to the people of Pennsylvania that they really are. They had their chance. They blew it, big time. Now they lose, big time. The Republicans are corrupt, partisan thugs who will say or do anything to retain power. Too bad they will soon be a minority and the shoe will be on the other foot and they will be taking the dictates of the new Democrat majorities. Now THAT will be real interesting.

  6. Red Maverick Ray Zabourney spent millions for Moke George and Anne Covey to lose because that is what incompetent, self-serving losers do.

  7. So Republicans lost because short-sighted, cheapskate donors did not spend enough on Republican Establishment consultants who lost in 2012 statewide and again 2014 statewide governor’s election.

    Gleason is more interested in his county and municipal insurance commissions than in winning Republican. In fact, a friendly Democrat who is willing to insure with Gleason is better for him. Jack Murtha comes to mind.

    Val DiGiogio may provide some information about pressure for insurance.contracts.

    Gleason Asher are incompetent, self-serving losers. Their network of consultants and hacks are playing the base.

  8. Rob Gleason spent precious party funds trying to rescue incumbent county commissioners who had contracted with him for insurance business!!! Why is no one talking about this?!? When you have crony capitalists running the party, what do you expect?

  9. Ineffective R leadership statewide. Candidates with no statewide base or charisma going against strong opponents. With the right candidates money could be raised, the base voters energized. At least the voters choose people who are qualified to serve.

  10. GOP lost because the Democrats have new leadership, right after the primary the new chair to-be organized each campaign. while the old party played around the new party was working hard. Pretty simple.

  11. Oh yeah and employing incompetent, sleazy consultants like Red Maverick media didn’t help either.

  12. How did the GOP lose the Supreme Court (along with the electoral votes in 2008 and 2012, the Governor’s mansion, and every other statewide office)?

    Two words: ROB GLEASON.

  13. NAIVE…..Asher was out raising money for Rubio. He broke the rule of focusing on one election at a time.

  14. Hoist by their own petard. Wonder how many Rs will see the light on campaign finance reform now… not holding my breath.

  15. Some on our side took a dive. Others would say some looked the other way and did some Dem side deals. The election was a disaster for the GOP and its consequences will be felt for many years politically and in business.

  • Understanding that basic education funding should/will be first, what should be the next highest priority for the General Assembly?

    • Raising The Minimum Wage (25%)
    • Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana (24%)
    • None of the above. Something Else. (20%)
    • Economic Development (14%)
    • Higher Education (8%)
    • Public Transportation (8%)
    • Workforce Opportunities and Innovation (2%)

    Total Voters: 51

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