Messages sharp, simple in Pennsylvania judicial races

As the Republican and Democratic parties compete for seven appellate court judgeships, ads are hard-hitting.

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On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians will elect seven judges to statewide appellate courts — one justice to the Supreme Court; two members of Commonwealth Court, which hears cases involving government policy; and four judges to Superior Court, which hears appeals in criminal and civil cases.

Franklin & Marshall College political analyst Terry Madonna said the judicial seats are important, since they affect lives, and the winners can generally stay there as long as they want.

“The fundamental problem is that the voters will know precious little about these candidates,” Madonna said. “In many cases they won’t even know their names.”

Since it’s hard to get voters acquainted with candidates, most of whom are judges who’ve toiled in relative anonymity for years, the political parties look for simple, straightforward messages to push their slates.

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Here’s the text of a new Democratic TV ad:

“Angry about Donald Trump? Trump threatens our civil rights. On Tuesday, Nov. 7, you can fight back. Vote for judges to protect our rights. Send Trump a message — vote for the Democrats.”

The ad is filled with images of Trump (see above) and mentions his name three time in 15 seconds.

Republicans say it’s a cheap gimmick.

“This is exactly the type of ad a slate of liberal activist judges would run in a Hail Mary attempt to rally their far-left base,” said Pennsylvania Republican Party spokesman Greg Manz. “The Democrats have no message or vision other than obstructionary rhetoric.”

Many Republican ads don’t even mention party affiliation, but they have some targeted partisan messages.

A mailing from the state Republican Party features an image of a military salute and plays on the controversy over athletes protesting during the national anthem.

The headline reads, “Vote For Judges who Share Our Values and Stand for the Flag. Vote Republican on Tuesday, November 7th.”

That drew a sharp rebuke from Daniel Ceisler, who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan serving in military intelligence and is managing the campaign of his mother, Democrat Ellen Ceisler, for Commonwealth Court.

“I didn’t risk my life in Afghanistan so Republicans could question my mom’s patriotism,” Ceisler said. ”Judges should be better than this.”

In a statement, Ceisler noted the military affiliations of many Democratic judicial candidates and their families.

State GOP chairman Val DiGiorgio criticized the Democratic candidate for state Supreme Court, Dwayne Woodruff, who condemned Trump’s statements that athletes who protest during the anthem should be fired.

In the marquee race for the Supreme Court, Republican candidate Sallie Mundy has a big lead in fundraising. She also has the advantage of incumbency — she was appointed by Gov.Tom Wolf to finish the term of Michael Eakin — and she’s rated “highly recommended” by the state bar.

Mundy has one particularly striking ad which shows her in goggles and ear muffs, firing a pistol at a shooting range. After an announcer touts her endorsement by the National Rifle Association, Mundy stops firing, turns to the camera and says, “When I say I’ll protect the Constitution and the Second Amendment, you better believe it.”

Woodruff is a former Pittsburgh Steeler and a Common Pleas judge, rated “recommended” by the bar. He’s struggled to raise the money to compete with Mundy. His campaign manager, Micah Sims, noted that might have something do with the fact that Mundy’s husband, James Mundy, is a former president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association.

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