That last one may be mere speculation at this point, but there are plenty of Harrisburg insiders who have acknowledged hearing the rumor. And like any good rumor, this one does have some basis in fact: Leach, a Democrat representing Montgomery County's 17th District, has decent name recognition in voter-rich Southeastern PA, and a run would come on the heels of a string of recent Democratic judicial victories.
His campaign consultants didn’t completely deny the senator’s ambitions for higher office.
“I’ve heard the rumor … I can't speak to it, but Daylin walks down the street and people recognize him,” said Leach's political strategist, Aren Platt. “He was asked to run this year in the Sixth and Seventh Congressional district races. And you look at the political landscape in Pennsylvania – there is no one who is that liberal, that progressive, that populist.”
But the more pressing question at the moment may not be whether he runs or not, but whether voters’ approval of a controversial ballot question to raise the state’s judicial retirement age to 75 years of age has already made the decision for him. Not to mention any other Democrats looking to expand a strong majority on the state's highest court.
If the question had failed, there would have been three Supreme Court vacancies up for grabs in 2017. Instead, there will be only one – a seat currently occupied by Justice Sallie Mundy, appointed to fill a vacancy left by fellow Republican J. Michael Eakin, who resigned in the wake of the “Porngate” scandal. And Mundy, unlike past benchwarmers filling in vacant court seats, is already poised to stand for re-election.
“I think that’s frustrating for Daylin because I think getting into a three-way race would have been good for him. I think getting into a one-on-one with Mundy will be very frustrating for him,” said GOP consultant Ray Zaborney.
Of course, this would be true for any aspiring justice: a “Top three” race would naturally entail more victors than a winner-take-all contest. But unlike some of the party faithful, Leach vociferously opposed the ballot question and its misleading phrasing, participating in a lawsuit to sink the measure.
Although many speculated it was initially intended mainly to keep Republican Tom Saylor on the bench – the GOP deliberately reworded the question to make its passage more likely – some Democratic operatives saw the measure could also be a way to extend the shelf life of recent Democratic judicial gains. They privately took issue with Leach’s pointed efforts to kill off the ballot measure suggesting his resistance was self-interested – something Leach’s office aggressively denied.
“Whoever is spreading this lie clearly hasn’t read the lawsuit. Senator Leach was one of many plaintiffs, so the lawsuit would have happened even if he had not joined it,” said Leach spokesperson Steve Hoenstine, referring to fellow plaintiffs and Sens. Jay Costa and Christine Tartaglione. “He did not join the lawsuit to further his career; he joined it to draw attention to the Republicans’ attempt to mislead voters.”
Hoenstine also cited widespread criticism to the question from former justices, other pols and newspaper editorials from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But Drew Crompton, chief of staff and counsel for Republican Senate Pro-Tempore Joe Scarnati, who promoted the ballot measure, said it would be logical for court aspirants to oppose raising the retirement age.
“I can’t speak to Senator Leach’s ambitions, but that makes sense to me,” he said. “If that question had failed, there would have been three empty seats. I don’t know if he can get the only open seat.”
But those mulling a run at PA’s top court, or simply angry at the sleight of hand behind the ballot question's passage, can still take heart. It continues to be litigated in federal court through a separate lawsuit, filed by former PA Chief Justices Ronald D. Castille, Stephen Zappala Sr. and Philadelphia lawyer Richard Sprague, which would invalidate voters' endorsement of the measure.