HARRISBURG -- The word came just after 1 a.m. yesterday, as family, friends and supporters of Supreme Court candidate Debra Todd crowded into a private suite at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh.
Pandemonium broke loose as The Associated Press declared her the winner of one of two open seats on the state Supreme Court.
"My husband, Steve, rushed across the room and kissed me," said Mrs. Todd, who is now a Superior Court judge. "My 16-year-old daughter charged over and gave me a big hug; my friends and campaign staff were screaming and cheering. It was just a wonderful feeling that I'll always remember."
She said it was the longest five hours of her life, from the time the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday to the post-1 a.m. victory celebration.
Democrat Todd narrowly defeated Republican Judge Maureen Lally-Green, her colleague on Superior Court. Judge Todd, 50, had been leading by comfortable double digits for much of the evening, as early results from Democratic strongholds like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia put her and her Democratic running mate, Superior Court Judge Seamus McCaffery of Philadelphia, out in front. Gov. Ed Rendell even called to congratulate her, but she was still worried.
"Democrats always have to worry about those numbers coming in from the 'T,' the rural, Republican areas in the central and northern portions of the state," Judge Todd said yesterday. "But I held my own in the middle of the state."
AP declared Judge McCaffery a winner just after midnight, with 30 percent of the vote. Judge Todd wound up with 26 percent, compared with Judge Lally-Green's 24 percent. The other Republican candidate in the race, Environmental Hearing Board Judge Mike Krancer, got 20 percent.
Judge Todd is only the second woman in Pennsylvania history to be elected to the Supreme Court. She follows Justice Sandra Schultz Newman of Philadelphia, who served from 1996 to 2006.
Judge Todd said she didn't care if she came in first or second.
"I've always said there were two seats open and I only wanted one of them. I'm a very happy camper," she said.
During the campaign some voters had asked her about the pay raises given to state judges, but that controversial issue didn't end up as a major factor. Judge Todd always stressed that she'd given the $15,000 a year raise back to the state Treasury.
Judge Todd said she spoke with Judge Lally-Green yesterday.
"It was indeed tough. Obviously it's hard to lose. I complimented her on her hard work," she said. "My heart went out to her because I know how badly she wanted this."
Judge Lally-Green wasn't taking calls yesterday, said campaign spokesman Mark Weaver.
"Obviously she's disappointed with the final results, but she's proud of the campaign she ran," he said. "Things got closer as the night went on. She did well in Central Pennsylvania, but the 120,000-vote margin [of loss] in Philadelphia was so overwhelming. The Democrats made a strong turnout there."
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.