PHILADELPHIA -- Democrats on Tuesday nominated Philadelphia Judge Kevin Dougherty, whose family ties to organized labor helped bankroll his campaign, for one of three open seats on the state Supreme Court.
Republicans, meanwhile, picked Superior Court Judge Judy Olson as one of their nominees.
Dougherty waged an aggressive TV advertising campaign with $1.4 million raised mainly from labor organizations, lawyers and businesses. His brother is the business manager of the Philadelphia local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a generous supporter.
Olson, who's from the Pittsburgh area, spent 24 years as a lawyer and had a brief stint as an Allegheny County judge before being elected to the Superior Court in 2009. She raised $119,000 for her campaign through last week.
Dougherty and Olson were endorsed by their parties.
Voters were reducing a field of 12 state Supreme Court candidates by half, setting the stage for a high-stakes, big-spending showdown that could flip partisan control of the state's highest court for the first time in six years.
The three top vote-getters in each party will compete as the nominees for an unprecedented three open seats in the Nov. 3 general election.
The nomination races for Supreme Court and one open seat each on the Superior and Commonwealth courts were the only statewide election contests this year, but voters were also choosing nominees for a large number of local judgeships, municipal offices and school board seats.
The other Democratic candidates for Supreme Court were Superior Court Judges Christine Donohue, Anne Lazarus and David Wecht, Jefferson County Judge John Foradora and Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff.
The other Republican candidates were Supreme Court Justice Correale Stevens, Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey, Adams County Judge Mike George and Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren.
The candidates' campaigns raised about $5 million in the primary, and the general election phase is expected to unleash a flood of cash from outside interest groups.
The hopefuls made frequent public appearances across the state, and most aired TV ads to build name recognition, ever mindful of ethical rules that bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting money or endorsements or making promises about what they would do if elected.
All the candidates emphasized the need for ethics reform in the judiciary.
Two of the open seats are the result of resignations by disgraced justices - a Republican convicted of corruption for using state-paid staff to do political work and a Democrat implicated in a pornographic email scandal. The other vacancy resulted from the retirement of former Chief Justice Ronald Castille after he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Republicans have held a 4-3 majority on the court since 2010. The court's partisan makeup is rarely an issue in the court's day-to-day business, but it can stand out in situations such as appeals of legislative redistricting plans. Republicans hold comfortable majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Wecht, who like Dougherty was endorsed by the state Democratic Party, trailed him with $900,000 in contributions. Wecht, whose chambers are in Pittsburgh, is the son of pathologist Cyril Wecht, whose inquiries into the deaths of well-known figures such as Elvis Presley gained him national fame.
On the Republican side, George was the most successful fundraiser, thanks to a $500,000 contribution from a businessman friend that pushed his total to $590,000. He was endorsed by the party.
Supreme Court justices are elected to 10-year terms and receive annual salaries that are currently $203,409.
Democrat Sabatina Wins Stack's Philadelphia Senate Seat
Democrat John Sabatina Jr. will join the Pennsylvania state Senate and take the northeast Philadelphia seat left vacant when Mike Stack became lieutenant governor.
Sabatina beat Republican Timothy Dailey in Tuesday's special election to pick Stack's successor in the Senate's Fifth District seat.
The 44-year-old Sabatina will join the Democratic minority in the Senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 30-19. Sabatina, a lawyer, is in his ninth year as a representative in the Pennsylvania state House.
Dailey is a Catholic high school teacher and a political unknown.