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In Midterms, Kavanaugh Fight Seen Boosting GOP in Senate, Democrats in House

WASHINGTON – With the Supreme Court fight behind them, the Republican and Democratic parties head into the midterm-election homestretch driven by two of the most powerful currents in United States politics: Conservatives’ passion to shape the federal judiciary and women’s “#Me Too” movement.

In the short term, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after a debate over sexual-assault allegations likely improves Republicans’ chances of keeping control of the Senate and weakens their odds of keeping their House majority, analysts say.

“America got a glimpse of what Democrat governance would look like, and it’s going to cost them in next month’s national elections,” said Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC closely allied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The impact varies because the fight for the Senate is being waged mostly in states where President Trump and his court pick are popular, while the House battleground is mostly suburban districts more hostile to the president.

The bottom line is both sides now view the Kavanaugh fight as part of a midterm election that was expected, based on polling and historical trends, to lean against the White House. The outcome could set the tone for the rest of the president’s first term.

Partisans in both parties have already begun using the Kavanaugh fight to inflame and intensify passions they believe will move their supporters to the polls this fall.

The Capitol grounds were swarming with protestors Saturday as the Senate met to take the final confirmation vote and afterward.

Democratic activists say they hope to turn the energy from the streets to the ballot box.

“This confirmation process has been an all-out war on women,” Linda Sarsour, an organizer of the 2017 Women’s March, said in a fundraising email Friday. “We have to fight harder than ever to win the Senate.”

Over the longer term, the Kavanaugh fight could reinforce an alignment of the political parties that has been long in the making but accelerated by the Trump presidency: The Republican Party’s core constituency increasingly is centered on white men, while the Democratic Party is political home to many people of color and a rising share of women voters.

A record number of women are running for office up and down the ballot – the overwhelming majority of them as Democrats – and many women have turned to political activism for the first time in response to the 2016 election.

A September Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that women want Democrats rather than Republicans to control Congress, by 58 percent to 33 percent, a 25 percentage-point margin. Men favored Republican control by 3 percentage points, 47 percent to 44 percent.

Women were more likely to oppose the nomination of now-Justice Kavanaugh.

Even before the hearing where Christine Blasey Ford testified about her claims that he sexually attacked her when they were teenagers, the Journal/NBC poll found 28 percent of women supported his nomination while 42 percent opposed.

Among men, 41 percent supported and 33 percent opposed.

“I really think this is going to drive women out to the polls in unprecedented numbers,” said Katie Hill, a Democratic House candidate in California.

Run for Something, a group established after the 2016 presidential election to help political newcomers run for office, said that, in the days around the Senate Judiciary Committee’s final Kavanaugh hearing, the number of people signing up to work on campaigns and run for future office spiked.

Among the new volunteers was Libby Eismeier, a 33-year-old mother of three in Indiana, who signed up for campaign work for the first time after her senator said on Facebook he believed Justice Kavanaugh.

Some Republicans argue that women were already so politically mobilized in opposition to Trump, this Kavanaugh episode probably didn’t add much to their already inflamed ranks.

The Kavanaugh confirmation fulfilled of one of the most important 2016 promises that drove GOP voters to Trump, especially evangelical conservatives who had qualms about his lifestyle.

“Christian conservatives will feel like Trump upheld his end of the bargain,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres. Meanwhile, “Democratic enthusiasm in the midterms will go even higher, if that’s possible.”

Republicans are encouraged by signs the controversy also has increased the political engagement of GOP voters, helping to close the “enthusiasm gap” that has given Democrats an edge.

“Republicans are back in the game and for a while, before the hearings, we looked lost,” said Katon Dawson, former chairman of the South Carolina GOP.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is seeing a spike in low-dollar donations. The amount raised in the first week of October was more than four times that raised a month earlier.

But an energized base will get the GOP only so far in the key electoral battlegrounds – suburban districts where Trump is less popular.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report since late September has downgraded Republicans’ chances of winning House races in 13 districts.

There are 15 GOP-held House districts that Cook rates as likely to go Democratic or leaning that way. Another 29 districts are considered toss ups. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to win the majority.

Meanwhile, the Cook report upgraded Republican chances in three Senate races, but downgraded them in three others since late September.

One question is whether the Kavanaugh effect will soon be supplanted by some other national or international firestorm.

President Trump isn’t likely to let attention to his victory fade as he holds rallies in battleground states over the next month. McConnell says he will keep it before voters on the campaign trail.

“It mesmerized the country and we intend of course to be talking about it in the campaigns,” McConnell said in a Saturday interview. “Nothing unifies Republicans like the courts.”

Republican candidates cite the Kavanaugh fight to illustrate what would come from giving Democrats control of the Senate.

“It’s what we hate most about Washington,” says an ad for Republican challenger Matt Rosendale’s campaign against Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, calling the Kavanaugh attacks a “liberal smear.”

For Democrats, the Kavanaugh debate was particularly nettlesome for 10 senators up for re-election in states that Trump won in 2016.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota was already lagging behind GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer in polls when she announced her opposition to Justice Kavanaugh.

In a sign of GOP confidence, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has canceled some of their October advertising in that race.

Heitkamp this weekend released a new campaign ad to explain why she voted against Kavanaugh – because she didn’t think he was truthful or unbiased – and to remind voters that she had backed Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

In West Virginia, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has been leading in polls over state attorney general Pat Morrissey. Republicans saw their best hope for beating him in the possibility he would vote against Justice Kavanaugh. He did not.

In Tennessee, another deep-red state, Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen announced Friday he would have voted for Justice Kavanaugh if he was in the Senate at the time.

Manchin and Bredesen risked alienating Democrats they need to win their tough races.

Priorities USA Action, one of the best-funded Democratic super PACs, and the liberal group MoveOn.org said they wouldn’t contribute to either senator because of their support for Justice Kavanaugh.


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