Kavanaugh vote becomes landmine for GOP candidates in Senate races

September 18, 2018

Mike Braun’s Senate campaign has sounded like a broken record in recent weeks, repeatedly demanding to know whether Sen. Joe Donnelly, his Democratic opponent, would vote to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.

In the last few days, however, Mr. Braun has clammed up as the judge faces an allegation of an attempted sexual assault at a high school party in the 1980s.

That’s turned an issue that Republicans had once hoped to be a magic bullet against red state Democrats such as Indiana’s Mr. Donnelly into a potential political landmine for the GOP.

Indeed, it’s Democrats who are now on the offensive in states such as Nevada, where they are challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller’s “no reservations” support for the judge.

“How can Sen. Heller not have a single reservation about confirming Judge Kavanaugh?” said Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Sarah Abel. “Sen. Heller needs to have the backbone to put politics aside and do what’s right even if that means going against his party leaders in Washington.”

The political saga surrounding the Kavanaugh nomination has intensified since Christine Balsey Ford’s story became public last week and escalated further after a Washington Post report Sunday in which she gave a first-person account of her claim that he sexually and physically assaulted her when he was drunk at a party more than 30 years ago.

Mr. Kavanaugh has vehemently denied the allegations, both publicly and in private conversations with senators, but President Trump said a delay in the push for confirmation may be appropriate. Mr. Kavanaugh agreed to address the accusation under oath next week in the Senate, as will his accuser.

For Senate Democrats running for re-election in Trump country, the accusation was a welcome curveball.

Mr. Donnelly and Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, each of them from states that voted for Mr. Trump overwhelmingly in 2016, have all been walking a political tightrope in saying they were open to voting for the judge’s elevation but refusing to take a firm position yet.

Liberal activists demanded they announce opposition, while their GOP opponents had accused them of playing games with voters.

Now, it’s Democrats who feel in control of the narrative.

“The allegations made against Judge Kavanaugh are serious and merit further review,” Mr. Donnelly said Monday. “Given the nature of these allegations, and the number of outstanding questions, I believe the Judiciary Committee should hold off on Thursday’s scheduled vote.”

The Braun campaign, meanwhile, did not respond to requests for comment and the campaign has not tweeted about the judge since early Friday morning, before the most explosive allegations came out.

One Republican candidate, Corey Stewart, the GOP nominee in Virginia, did weigh in, saying senators from both parties “have a lot nerve obstructing the confirmation of a good judge on the basis of unfounded, sensational allegations going all the way back to high school.”

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is running against Mr. Manchin, said he is confident that the Senate Judiciary Committee and Mr. Trump will “handle these allegations in an appropriate and timely manner, allowing both sides to be heard.

“It is disappointing, however, that Senate Democrats held this information for weeks only to drop it on the eve of the Judiciary Committee vote,” Mr. Morrisey said. “The allegations should absolutely be taken seriously, but Senate Democrats have done a disservice to the accused, the accuser, and the American people, by politically waiting until the 11th hour to bring forward these allegations.”

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley also questioned the timing of the accusation and the actions of Democrats.

Following his first debate with Mrs. McCaskill on Friday, Mr. Hawley told reporters he takes sexual assault allegations seriously, but said the new revelations appear to be “another attempt to stall and delay” and “this process needs to move forward.”

Mr. Hawley, however, ignored questions from an activists from American Bridge who twice asked whether he believed Ms. Ford.

Amelia Penniman, spokesperson for American Bridge, said the GOP’s blind support for Mr. Trump’s nominee will cost them.

“Recklessly standing with Kavanaugh just because Trump demands loyalty will only further alienate swing voters who have already turned on the Republican Party as a whole,” Ms. Penniman said. “If you’re a Republican who still supports this nominee, you can fully expect to be held accountable for failing to serve as a check and balance on the executive branch.”

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