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Retired state judge to run for Senate (Updated)

A former Commonwealth Court judge has decided to seek the Democratic nomination for Senate, adding another face to one of the country’s most high-profile and contentious primaries.

Doris Smith-Ribner, who served on the Commonwealth Court for more than two decades before retiring this summer, told Democrats gathered at an NAACP gala Friday night that she would be entering the race, according to someone who was there. She had been increasingly showing up at political events for weeks, and had heard rumors of her looming decision, but was unable to reach her after multiple attempts.

But in an interview with late Friday night, Smith-Ribner said she had decided to run after receiving a great deal of encouragement from supporters across the state.

“It’s not a decision that you make lightly,” she said. “This is a very major undertaking, and after spending 21 years as a state appeals court judge, you don’t just go out and make a decision on a whim. It was after a lot of reflection and deliberation.”

The source who attended the NAACP dinner said that Smith-Ribner promised there would be “more to come soon,” but was deliberate in not offering any more details. The other two main Democratic candidates in the race, Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman Joe Sestak, also spoke at the dinner. State Representative Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) is also running.

Whether Smith-Ribner can gain significant political traction in an expensive, competitive race remains to be seen. Specter and Sestak have already raised millions, and running judicial races—where party organizations are dominant players—is unlike a statewide Senate race a Commonwealth full of expensive media markets.

Smith-Ribner said she would have whatever “resources that will be needed to win.”

“I will do whatever it takes to make this a very strong and viable campaign,” Smith-Ribner.

Complete coverage from

Smith-Ribner not intimidated by high-profile race

Says it’s not about Arlen Specter

Her paperwork is in the mail

October 9, 2009 at 10:41 pm

--Dan Hirschhorn

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comments [11] | post a comment

  1. DaveB

    Oct 9th, 2009

    What did Arlen Specter pay her to enter the race?

  2. Lee Levan

    Oct 10th, 2009

    “What did Arlen Specter pay her to enter the race?”

    That was also my first thought; but I’d like to see how the first reliable poll is affected by her (so far only promised) candidacy. Will it split the opposition to Specter, or will it bring in voters who otherwise may not have participated in the primary? An interesting, but perhaps not meaningful, development.

  3. David Diano

    Oct 10th, 2009

    While I’m sure that Judge Smith-Ribner has no connection to the Specter campaign, this is actually pretty funny/ironic.

    The biggest knock Specter gets, especially from women, is from his Anita Hill behavior. It was almost 20 years ago, but women have long memories. How many married guys out there have their wives still bringing up crap from 30 or 40 years ago over some insignificant slight?

    Sestak was counting on picking up the Anita Hill backlash vote against Specter, even from women that didn’t particularly like Sestak.

    As a woman on the ballot, Judge Smith-Ribner becomes a magnet for those anti-Specter voters and a surrogate for Anita Hill.

    She almost certainly has better Dem credentials than Sestak, and will attract liberal voters, draining the pool for Sestak.

    BTW, this morning I attended or annual Delco Dem awards breakfast. Sestak spoke (rambled incoherently) for about 5 minutes. Not once did he name or mention any support for the dozens of local candidates running in 2009. This slight did not go unnoticed by the candidates.

    Also there, was Bill Kortz. Though he was in “Sestak territory”, he got acknowledged by several of the speakers (not Sestak). Chairman Cliff Wilson evenhandedly acknowledge Kortz, as an elected official and teased about the rivalry between Eastern and Western PA Dems when it comes to statewide judicial candidates. Lentz and Vitali both acknowledged and praised Kortz as a colleague. Kortz is working hard on single-payer for PA (Sestak voted against state-level single payer). Kortz also had 30-years in the steel industry and is the strongest union man among the Senate candidates.

    My point here is that while Specter and Sestak are well funded and better known, they are not the only candidates. The entrance of Judge Smith-Ribner underscores that point.

    As the race goes from two-man, to three-man to 4 person, Sestak’s odds of winning keep dropping like a rock.

    The strategy question is, should Kortz and Smith-Ribner be going after Sestak or directly for Specter? There are merits to both sides.
    1) Specter is the man to beat.
    2) But, Sestak is in their way and has their anti-Specter votes.

    There is debate among the local Dems whether Sestak is capable of seeing the futility of his campaign, and whether he’ll quit or keep going anyway.

    Most people think Sestak is too ego driven to quit and is incapable of an honest assessment of his own short comings. Even among the fans/supporters he has in Delco, the emerging consensus is that Sestak’s got a poorly run campaign and looking weak. Sestak’s oratory skills have gotten worse (though he’s been mercifully briefer). EVERYONE expects him to be completely slaughtered in a debate against Specter. (It will be fun to watch.)

  4. Lee Levan

    Oct 10th, 2009

    “There is debate among the local Dems whether Sestak is capable of seeing the futility of his campaign, and whether he’ll quit or keep going anyway.”

    There is a parallel debate among PA Dems whether those who say they believe that Sestak’s campaign is futile are delusional or they are so afraid of Sestak’s challenge that they are trying to create the impression that he may quit the race.

  5. David Diano

    Oct 11th, 2009

    The best authority/advise/predictions I’ve gotten from people that know Joe is that he’s too much of an egomaniac to quit, even if he’s polling at 10%. He’s “all in”.
    The concern was that he would quit, and jump back to his house seat and screw up Lentz or Vitali.

    Whether or not Joe quits, he’s still not going to get elected Senator. He can’t beat Specter and he can’t beat Toomey.

    I would LOVE for him to stay in the race to the bitter end and receive a crushing and humiliating defeat. However, for the good of the party, Sestak should realize he’s got no traction and not drain money/resources from the fight against Toomey.

    Lee, the only people that think Sestak has a chance are those in Delco. Outside the county, he has scant support. Inside the county, he’s got verbal “support”, but a lot of the political operatives KNOW that Joe doesn’t do anything for them, so they are going to be busy with other things when Joe comes calling for help.

    Lee, he’s running a crappy campaign (it’s surprisingly worse than the weak campaign he was expected to run).

  6. suburban dem

    Oct 11th, 2009

    seems to me that specter was going to get the minority vote bigtime wiht rendell, brady and the other dem bigwigs going for him. i think the entry of an african american woman does nto necessarily help him & hurt sestak. also, read some of judge ribner’s opinions…she has lots of controversy in her past. also, since specter has such a sizable poll lead, think she might knock him down some rather than sestak.

  7. Jon Geeting

    Oct 11th, 2009

    How progressive a candidate is Doris Smith-Ribner? It’s starting to look like Sestak’s brother is indeed running his campaign. I’m open to any credible challenger. Despite the lackluster effort from Sestak so far, the utility of the primary for Democrats is not in question. Each candidate is trying to outdo the other’s liberal credentials. It’s a perfect blueprint for dealing with conservative members of the Democratic caucus. We need primary challengers in Nebraska, Indiana, and Arkansas too.

  8. David Diano

    Oct 12th, 2009

    It’s “starting to look”? When did it stop looking like his brother was running it?
    Over the summer Sestak announced he was going to replace his brother with a real/professional campaign manager, but keep his brother on the campaign in some capacity (full nepotism and donor funded employment).
    I haven’t heard any announcement that Sestak has picked a new manager. Based upon Sestak’s reputation, the good ones wouldn’t want to work for him (especially at the cheap-ass cut-rate prices Sestak wants to pay). A real manager would probably want to do away with the non-pro, non-paid youngsters that Sestak conned into working for him in key positions. But, most of all, a the manager would have to be devoid of any moral or ethical concerns for the party, and how Sestak does business. Sestak, might want to check out some brothels to find someone willing to wh0re themselves out.

  9. Lee Levan

    Oct 12th, 2009

    “Outside the county, he has scant support”

    Scant support? That’s not what the polls say. 13 (approximately) points down with more than 7 months till the election. Part of that deficit is due to a huge difference in name recognition. If that’s scant, then the fact that long time (albeit Republican)incumbent Specter is under 50% in most polls demonstrates that Specter also has scant support.

  10. mike mentzer

    Oct 12th, 2009

    Sestak, Specter, Toomey, Kortz, Mentzer, Ribner..

    Certainly are choices.. but alas.. Specter or Toomey and it’s looking more and more like the banking insider Toomey will win..
    All hail the Golden Calf….

  11. [...] Dan Hirshhorn at Pa2010 reports that retired Commonwealth Court judge Doris Smith-Ribner of Philadelphia may run against Specter & Toomey in the Dem Senate primary. She made the announcement at a NAACP gala on Friday. Here is her questionnaire form for the PA Bar in 2007; she attended Pitt Law. [...]

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