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GOP establishment candidates shake off challengers in primary

While there has been much saber-rattling in recent months about insurgents trying to take control of Washington County’s government, it was the establishment candidates who won the day during Tuesday’s primary.

Incumbent Commissioner Nick Sherman and GOP establishment candidate Electra Janis won the Republican primary in Washington County during a tumultuous time in which many running had tried to turn the party on its head.

Ashley Duff, who made a name for herself railing against the handling of the 2020 presidential election, finished third in the election, following closely by her running mate Bruce Bandel, and just ahead of fellow Republicans Sonia Stopperich Sulc and Kevin Redford.

The retirement of longtime Republican Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan opened up the slot for a new GOP candidate to ascend to the position, which will now be filled by Janis. On the Democratic side of the ballot, longtime Commissioner Larry Maggi and his running mate, Cindy Fisher, easily defeated Randy Barli on their side of the ticket.

Sherman and Janis will now face Maggi and Fisher in the November general election.

There was one upset in the Republican primary, with Ray Phillips defeating incumbent Clerk of Courts Brenda Davis, who has been mired in controversy during her tenure. Phillips will now face Democrat Bobby Dellorso, who ran unopposed in the primary.

In other row office races in the Republican primary, Prothonotary Laura Hough defeated challenger Kevin Hill, and Register of Wills James Roman defeated Christine Wiles Thomas. Longtime Coroner Timothy Warco also defeated challenger Marc Zmijowski in the Republican primary.

Elsewhere, Washington Mayor Scott Putnam appeared to lose the Democratic nomination to challenger JoJo Burgess, but it was unclear whether Putnam had enough write-in votes on the Republican side of the ballot to keep his candidacy viable.

Dan McCaffery wins Democratic primary for Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat
Democrat Dan McCaffery has won the party’s nomination in Pennsylvania for a vacant state Supreme Court seat
  • Updated

HARRISBURG – Dan McCaffery has won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania for a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court, which is playing a prominent role in settling disputes over voting rights, abortion rights and gun rights in the presidential battleground.

McCaffery defeated Deborah Kunselman in the two-way race. Both currently sit on the state Superior Court, a statewide appellate body that handles appeals from county courts in criminal and civil cases.

McCaffery will face the winner of the Republican primary for the seat in the November general election.

Competing on the Republican ticket are Carolyn Carluccio, a Montgomery County judge, and Patricia McCullough, a judge on the Commonwealth Court, a statewide appellate court that handles cases involving government agencies or challenges to state laws.

On the campaign trail, McCullough has repeatedly boasted of being the “only judge in 2020 in the presidential election in the entire country” to order a halt to her state’s election certification.

McCullough was ruling in a Republican-backed post-election legal challenge that sought to throw out 2.5 million mail-in ballots – most cast by Democrats – and tilt victory to Donald Trump in the presidential battleground state. The state’s high court quickly overturned McCullough’s order.

McCullough, of Allegheny County, also ran for state Supreme Court in 2021 and lost in the primary. The state party is endorsing Carluccio and party allies have reported spending nearly $1 million to help her beat McCullough.

Democrats currently hold a 4-2 majority on the court, which has an open seat following the death last fall of Chief Justice Max Baer, a Democrat.

The court has handled a number of hot-button issues over the past few years.

It is currently examining a challenge to a state law that restricts the use of public funds to help women get an abortion as well as Philadelphia’s challenge to a state law that bars it and other municipalities from restricting the sale and possession of guns.

In recent years, the justices rejected a request to invalidate the state’s death penalty law and upheld the constitutionality of the state’s expansive mail-in voting law. The court also turned away challenges to the 2020 election result from Republicans who wanted to keep former President Donald Trump in power, and ruled on a variety of lawsuits over gray areas in the mail-in voting law.

In one 2020 election case, justices ordered counties to count mail-in ballots that arrived up to three days after polls closed, citing delays in mail service caused by disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling spurred an outcry among Republicans, who challenged the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court ultimately declined to take the case. The ballots – nearly 10,000 of them – were never counted in any federal race, including for president, because the election was certified while their fate remained in legal limbo. State elections officials said the votes weren’t enough to change the results of a federal election.

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Vanata defeats Russo in Republican race for Greene County district attorney

A new district attorney will likely be taking the reins in Greene County next year.

Brianna Vanata easily defeated incumbent District Attorney David Russo in the Republican primary, setting her up to win the position in the November general election.

Russo was first elected district attorney with just 37% of the vote in 2019 when he was involved in a three-way battle for the position between Democrat Jessica Phillips and write-in candidate Patrick Fitch.

But in a two-way battle for the position in the Republican primary, Vanata dominated with more than 72% of the vote. There were no Democratic candidates for the position, and it was unclear Tuesday night if either Vanata or Russo had received enough write-in votes on that side of the ballot for the November election.

In the Republican race for Greene County commissioner, Betsy Rohanna-McClure and Jared Edgreen cruised to their nominations over Larry Freeman and Cameron Downer. Rohanna-McClure and Edgreen will face off in the November general election against Democrats Blair Zimmerman and Christine Bailey, who beat Michael Holloway Jr. in the primary.

In the Republican race for treasurer, Jeannie High Grimes received 58% of the voting in defeating Julie Gatrell.

In the magistrate position that includes Waynesburg Borough and central and western portions of Greene County, incumbent District Judge David Balint cruised to victory in both the Republican and Democratic primaries against Leslie Joy Gordon.

In the other magistrate position that includes Franklin Township and northeastern Greene County, Tom Ankrom, who cross-filed, easily defeated Kelly A. Stepp and “Crazy” Charlie Jones to become the next district judge for that area.

Democrats keep Pennsylvania House majority, positioning party to prevent limits on abortion rights
Democrats will maintain their narrow Pennsylvania House majority after winning a special election in the Philadelphia suburbs
  • Updated

HARRISBURG – Democrats maintained their narrow Pennsylvania House majority Tuesday by winning a special election and along with it continued control over how the chamber will handle abortion, gun rights and election law legislation.

Heather Boyd won a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives representing the Philadelphia suburbs, beating Republican Katie Ford for a vacancy created by the resignation of Democratic Rep. Mike Zabel. Zabel quit the Legislature in March, shortly after a lobbyist accused him of sexually harassing her.

Boyd’s win gives Democrats 102 seats, the minimum needed to control the agenda in the 203-member House. The state Senate has a Republican majority.

The Democrats’ victory in the Delaware County district means first-term Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro will have at least one chamber to aid his agenda going into the final month of budget negotiations. The result could also affect a proposed constitutional amendment limiting abortion rights that legislative Republicans are one House floor vote away from putting before voters as a referendum.

Boyd is a former congressional and state legislative aide. Her district was once Republican but has given solid margins to Democratic candidates in recent elections.

Republicans entered the 2022 election with a 113-90 advantage in the state House, but Democrats flipped a net of 12 seats, barely enough to claim majority status after 12 years and elect one of their own as speaker.

Republican Michael Stender won a special election for a vacant central Pennsylvania seat. Stender, a Shikellamy school board member, firefighter and former EMT, was endorsed by former Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, the Republican who represented the district before winning a state Senate special election earlier this year. Stender beat Democrat Trevor Finn, a Montour County commissioner. The district also includes part of Northumberland County.