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Brett Kavanaugh attacks backfire on Democrats, galvanize Republicans ahead of midterms

October 5, 2018

Democrats’ attacks on Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh have fired up the Republican base, helping to erase Democrats’ advantage in voter enthusiasm and potentially giving the GOP an edge in several tight Senate races.

Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley said Thursday that voter backlash against Democrats for the rough treatment of Judge Kavanauagh gave his run in Missouri a “huge boost.” The phenomenon also is emerging in other battleground states.

Mr. Hawley, who is in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, told The Washington Times that Senate Democrats’ no-holds-barred fight to stop Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation had galvanized Republican voters and turned independents against the Democrats.

“It is a huge boost for us. It refocuses attention on the fact that Washington is a disaster and Senate Democrats have a radical left-wing agenda that they are just itching to impose and they haven’t accepted the 2016 election,” the Missouri attorney general said in an interview.

“That’s what this really comes down to. This isn’t about Judge Kavanaugh. It isn’t really about the Supreme Court per se. It is about the fact that Democrats, including Claire McCaskill, have never accepted the outcome of the 2016 election,” he said. “That is what I think really sticks in the craw of voters, and that’s what this race is about down the stretch.”

The backlash against the politicization of the #MeToo movement also took an unexpected turn.

Despite liberals’ predictions that unproven sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Kavanaugh would galvanize women against Republicans, female Republican Senate candidates in several battleground states are campaigning on the pledge that they would vote to confirm the nominee.

With the midterm elections just a month away, 80 percent of Republican voters now consider the election “very important,” according to a national poll released this week. That’s a significant jump from July, when 68 percent of the party’s voters felt that way, and it puts Republican voter enthusiasm in a statistical tie with Democrats (82 percent).

Republican women are a big part of the party’s fresh momentum: 83 percent of Republican women now say the election is very important, compared with 71 percent in July, according to the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

“The harsh and unfair treatment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh is having an incredible upward impact on voters,” President Trump tweeted Thursday. “The PEOPLE get it far better than the politicians.”

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, said, “The result of hearings, at least in the short run, is the Republican base was awakened.”

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said he still gives Democrats a good chance to win the House, but with a smaller majority than some have projected. But the confirmation vote this weekend could push more Democrats to the polls and buoy the party in House and Senate races, he said.

“Ironically, what is good for Kavanaugh is bad for the GOP,” Mr. Bannon said. “There will be a major surge in Democratic support and enthusiasm, especially among women, if the Senate confirms Kavanaugh’s nomination.”

The president flew Thursday to campaign in Minnesota, where sexual misconduct allegations have become the marquee issue in the special election to finish the term of Democrat Sen. Al Franken, who himself fell victim to the #MeToo movement and resigned in January after several women accused him of groping them.

Seeing an opening for Republicans, Mr. Trump jetted in to headline a rally for Senate candidate Karin Housley. Greeting cheering supporters at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, the president told the crowd of his nominee, “I think he’s doing well. The judge is doing very well, don’t you think?”

At a campaign rally in Rochester, Minnesota, Mr. Trump said the polls are moving in the Republicans’ direction across the country because Democrats “have been trying to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh.”

“Look at the polls over the last three or four days,” the president said. “It shows [Democrats’] rage-fueled resistance is starting to backfire at a level nobody’s ever seen before. We love it.”

Among the states where the president said polls are moving is Missouri, and he gave a shoutout to Mr. Hawley.

“Josh!” the president exclaimed.

Mrs. Housley is one of the Republican women challenging Democrats’ hijacking of the #MeToo movement. During a Fox News interview, she called it “absolutely disgusting.”

She slammed her opponent, Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, for hypocrisy in raising alarm about Judge Kavanaugh while campaigning with accused abuser Rep. Keith Ellison. Mr. Ellison, who is running for Minnesota attorney general, is accused by his former girlfriend of physical and emotional abuse.

Mrs. Smith, the former lieutenant governor who was appointed to temporarily fill the Senate seat, led by about 7 points in the most recent poll, which was taken before Christine Blasey Ford publicly accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teens in the early 1980s.

In Pennsylvania, the campaign of Rep. Lou Barletta said Thursday that the Republican Senate candidate has a 210 percent increase in online donations and a 78 percent increase in the amount of money raised in the past week because of the Kavanaugh situation. He is seeking to unseat well-funded Democratic Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr.

“We have also seen a growth in volunteers and an increase in social media engagement,” said campaign spokesman David Jackson.

The largest shift in polls has been in North Dakota, where Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp announced Thursday that she will vote “no” on Judge Kavanaugh. She made the decision as she fell behind Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer by 12 points, 53 percent to 41 percent, in a Fox News poll this week after trailing the Republican by 4 points in the same poll before the accusations erupted against Judge Kavanaugh.

Ms. Heitkamp’s announcement is viewed as her throwing in the towel and angling to preserve her standing with the Democratic base for a post-Senate career.

She entered the race as one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats, running in a state that Mr. Trump won by a 36-point margin two years ago. She was the Republicans’ top target for picking up a Democratic vote for Judge Kavanaugh.

Sticking with Democrats and voting “no” makes 34 percent of North Dakota voters less likely to back Ms. Heitkamp and 17 percent more likely to do so, according to the Fox News poll.

In Wisconsin, Republican Senate nominee Leah Vukmir also is campaigning in support of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination in her uphill fight to unseat Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

“Let’s get the confirmation process done,” Ms. Vukmir told a crowd at the Republican Party’s Fall Fest in Burlington this week. “Look what they have done to Judge Kavanaugh. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to have Judge Kavanaugh be the next justice on our United States Supreme Court.”

She told Fox News, “People are energized, they want it. I’m hearing it on the phones as I’m talking to people as well. ... I think it is going to increase our turnout.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus agreed that the Kavanaugh confirmation has energized Republican voters.

“I think the base sees this as a fight over our conservative values and whether or not they want to sit back and just watch a man’s life get destroyed through politics,” he said.

A Gallup poll taken in the days immediately before and after Ms. Blasey Ford’s testimony found that 46 percent of Americans are in favor of Senate confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh and 45 percent are opposed, with 9 percent having no opinion. In Missouri, one of the tightest Senate races in the country, Mr. Hawley highlighted the brutal Kavanaugh confirmation fight in a TV ad this week.

“They’ve created a circus. Liberals like Claire McCaskill and Chuck Schumer, they don’t want the truth. They want power, and too many Republicans won’t stand up,” he says in the ad.

The McCaskill campaign did not respond to questions about repercussions from the Kavanaugh fight.

Ms. McCaskill has said the sexual misconduct allegations did not influence her decision to oppose Judge Kavanaugh, which she announced as the issue began to catch fire.

The Missouri race remains a virtual tie. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls gave Mr. Hawley a razor-thin 0.4 percent advantage.

The only other undecided Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, probably would vote for Judge Kavanaugh if he weren’t the deciding 50th vote for confirmation, Politico reported Thursday. The report drew a rebuke from Mr. Manchin’s Republican opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

“West Virginians see Joe Manchin for the gutless, calculating politician he is and will see his vote as a craven political calculation in an effort to save his re-election,” said Morrisey campaign spokesman Nathan Brand.

In Arizona, Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally said this week that she would vote for Judge Kavanaugh if she were in the Senate. She is running to replace retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.

“There are people, to include many in the Democrats, that just want to destroy this guy, that want him to go down,” she told radio station KTAR. “They want to win the Senate back over. They want to stop a judge of his caliber of any like, no matter who it is.”

A Republican polling firm, Vox Populi, released a poll this week showing Ms. McSally leading Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema by 3 points, 45 percent to 42 percent. The Real Clear Politics average of polls has Ms. Sinema with a 4.2-point lead.

“The process surrounding Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation is likely to be a motivating factor as Arizonans go to the polls this November,” said Macy Cambio, Vox Populi Polling’s managing director.

In one of the most striking developments, liberal Democratic Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California asked supporters Thursday for campaign donations to help defend Sen. Joe Donnelly, the vulnerable Indiana Democrat who has come under fire for coming out against Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Ms. Harris, a likely 2020 presidential contender, said Democrats must do everything they can to thwart the Kavanaugh nomination and that means standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Donnelly in his race against businessman Mike Braun.

“My colleague Joe Donnelly is in one of the closest re-election campaigns in the country, and he’s facing an obscene amount of attacks from Mitch McConnell’s rich megadonors,” she said in a fundraising email blast. “Despite that, he announced his opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination late last week and is standing with us in this fight.

“Joe needs to know we’ve got his back because of it,” she said. “Joe’s race is within the margin of error in every poll meaning your support could be the difference.”

Mr. Braun has mocked Mr. Donnelly’s attempts to play up his independent streak, casting him as another liberal Democrat.

“Joe Donnelly says he’s in the middle, but he’s not,” Mr. Braun said in an ad released Thursday. “He votes with Chuck Schumer, endorsed Hillary Clinton and stands with the extreme left 80 percent of the time.”

Polls show the race is tight.

⦁ Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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