Elections (Archived)

Outspent 2-1, PA Dems launch last-minute judicial ad blitz

Republican candidate and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Sallie Mundy

Republican candidate and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Sallie Mundy

After President Donald Trump’s historic upset last year, many Democrats said it was time to shake up a political party that has hemorrhaged over 900 elected positions nationwide since 2009.

But as state Dems gear up for a last-minute push to draw attention to this year’s overlooked judicial races, some say the national party is failing the Keystone State when it comes to financial support for statewide judicial candidates.

“The only ‘resisting’ the (Democratic National Committee) is doing is when it comes to answering our desperate phone calls for help," quipped one political consultant in the Philadelphia area.

Even counting an infusion of $222,000 in television ads that began airing last week, Democrats will likely be outspent by their Republican counterparts almost 2 to 1 across all statewide judicial races in the general election. 

According to marketing data obtained by City&State PA, Dems have spent just over $1 million, compared to $1.8 million by the RNC, the PA GOP and their candidates. However, a Republican source said a forthcoming purchase would put the party’s final total closer to $2 million.

Political sources say the stakes are high even if public interest is low owing to the lack of big ticket races in 2017. Republicans are looking to demonstrate that last year’s victory was no fluke; Dems are meanwhile looking to build morale with electoral victories ahead of a much-hoped-for wave year in 2018.

With many major funderaisers on the left stockpiling cash for next year, Democratic consultant Joe Corrigan said the last-minute ad push was being jointly organized by the state party and prominent Democratic Superior Court candidates like Debbie Kunselman, Geoff Moulton and Maria McLaughlin, as well as Commonwealth Court candidate Ellen Ceisler.

“After being one of the biggest upset states for Donald Trump in November 2016, Pennsylvania is at great risk of being cast aside as a red state – the only red state in the Northeast,” said Corrigan, a managing consultant for Moulton. “In the absence of support from the DNC, local and statewide Democratic campaigns are working hard and working together, along with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, to make the best use of our limited resources.”

Some were optimistic that the Republican ad blitz would backfire by reminding voters angry with the GOP that there is actually an election next week. Many Republican judicial ads, from high-powered firms like BrabenderCox or Red Mavericks, sometimes pointedly avoid mentioning a candidate’s party affiliation. An ad for candidate and state Supreme Court Justice Sallie Mundy describes her as “not your typical Republican” and mentions she was appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat.

For its part, a spokesperson for the DNC pointed to the organization's "Every Zip Counts" program, an effort to top up state committee funding.

“The DNC increased its monthly investment to the Pennsylvania State Democratic Party to $10,000 in order to invest in races. That money goes directly to helping the state party elect Democrats running up and down in the ticket in Pennsylvania, including the judicial candidates on the ballot next week," said Elizabeth Renda. "The new DNC is committed to electing Democratic candidates in every zip code and every office, from the school board to the Oval Office."

But, privately, other Democrats worried that it wouldn’t be enough. While polling shows growing discontent across the state with the Republican president Pennsylvania voters helped elect, Republicans have still historically turned out in greater numbers for judicial races and off-year elections in general. 

“The DNC sat by for years as we hemorrhaged over a thousand seats just like this at the local level against a Republican Party that invests in local races. Tom Perez and the establishment won a close DNC race promising to change that,” said another Democratic consultant. “From what we have seen in one of the biggest swing states so far this year, their promises are complete and total bullshit.”