The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN MARTIN AND ALEXAN­DER BURNS

Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion de­lay could give Repub­li­cans a bet­ter chance of keep­ing Se­nate con­trol in midterms.

By agree­ing to de­lay Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion in the short term, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Se­nate Repub­li­cans are mak­ing two long-term bets: that a drawn-out con­fir­ma­tion bat­tle will se­cure a con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity on the Supreme Court, and that the fight will give them a bet­ter chance of keep­ing con­trol of the Se­nate in the midterm elec­tions.

With that Se­nate ma­jor­ity squarely in mind, Repub­li­cans are also mak­ing a con­ces­sion to stark po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties. Party lead­ers have con­cluded that sup­port­ing Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion, in the face of sex­ual as­sault ac­cu­sa­tions against him, will all but en­sure that Repub­li­cans lose con­trol of the House in Novem­ber even as their for­tunes may im­prove in some tough Se­nate races.

The think­ing, ac­cord­ing to Repub­li­cans, is that Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion would cause a back­lash from fe­male and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers against Repub­li­can can­di­dates in dozens of highly com­pet­i­tive House races – many of which have al­ready been slip­ping away – and do more dam­age than in statewide Se­nate con­tests. The party has a 23-seat ma­jor­ity in the House.

Even as Trump and Se­nate lead­ers ac­ceded to an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ac­cu­sa­tions against Ka­vanaugh, Repub­li­cans say they did so grudg­ingly. Pri­vately, they are de­ter­mined to press ahead with the con­fir­ma­tion process de­spite the po­lit­i­cal risks and the pos­si­bil­ity that Repub­li­can sen­a­tors may still de­fect and op­pose the nom­i­na­tion in the end.

If Repub­li­cans are able to nar­rowly seat Ka­vanaugh, who has an­grily por­trayed him­self as the vic­tim of a Demo­cratic smear cam­paign, they would quite likely thrill their party’s ac­tivist base and give vot­ers on the right a sense of mo­men­tum weeks be­fore the midterm elec­tions. By muscling for­ward with a floor vote next week, Repub­li­cans would also im­peril sev­eral Se­nate Democrats from strongly con­ser­va­tive states who have op­posed Ka­vanaugh or ex­pressed am­biva­lence about his nom­i­na­tion.

Yet in do­ing so, Repub­li­cans would en­er­gize many Democrats and a share of in­de­pen­dents in sub­ur­ban con­gres­sional dis­tricts and big-state gov­er­nor’s races where fe­male vot­ers were al­ready en­raged by Trump and polls have shown a gen­der gap stretch­ing to canyon-sized pro­por­tions. Repub­li­cans’ abil­ity to keep their thin House ma­jor­ity de­pends on po­lit­i­cal mod­er­ates who were al­ready skep­ti­cal of Ka­vanaugh be­fore this past week.

Now, Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s sear­ing tes­ti­mony, and Ka­vanaugh’s fu­ri­ous re­sponse, be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day ap­pears likely to gal­va­nize the grass roots of both par­ties.

But Repub­li­cans, par­tic­u­larly Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell, R-Ky., ap­pear to be gam­bling that their ma­jor­ity in the House is al­ready in tat­ters, and that it is worth trad­ing for a legacy-mak­ing ap­point­ment to the Supreme Court and the chance to re­tain their 51-49 Se­nate ma­jor­ity.

In an illustrati­on of how del­i­cate the is­sue is in im­por­tant Se­nate races, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., re­leased a cam­paign ad late in the week re­buk­ing her Repub­li­can chal­lenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, for mak­ing dis­re­spect­ful com­ments about women. Cramer has re­peat­edly ex­pressed doubt about Ford’s cred­i­bil­ity, and about the sig­nif­i­cance of her story.

But Heitkamp has also not stated how she will vote on Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion. Nei­ther has Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, where Trump was sched­uled to ap­pear Satur­day night at a rally for Manchin’s Repub­li­can ri­val.

With early vot­ing al­ready un­der­way in some states, it now seems in­evitable that the acidly di­vi­sive con­fir- ma­tion bat­tle will rip­ple through the elec­torate through Novem­ber.

“They’ve played to their hard base but that base isn’t big enough for them to carry the day across the coun­try,” said Rep. Dina Ti­tus, D-Nev., where the gov­er­nor­ship, a Se­nate seat and hand­ful of House seats are up for grabs. “The peo­ple they lost by do­ing this are women they need in the sub­urbs re­gard­less of what their party reg­is­tra­tion is.”

The de­ci­sion of Se­nate Repub­li­cans to move to­ward the con­tro­ver­sial con­fir­ma­tion vote was rem­i­nis­cent of an­other mo­ment when con­science, sex and pol­i­tics in­ter­sected and the court loomed large. Two years ago, many law­mak­ers con­sid­ered aban­don­ing Trump’s can­di­dacy after he boasted about grab­bing women’s gen­i­tals, only to largely rally to his side in part be­cause their vot­ers re­fused to hand Hil­lary Clin­ton the pres­i­dency and, ul­ti­mately, con­trol of the Supreme Court.

Se­nior Repub­li­can strate­gists said Mc­Connell and the other sen­a­tors had lit­tle choice this time be­cause they risked a back­lash within their own party if they walked away from Ka­vanaugh.

“He un­der­stood im­me­di­ately that if we’re not will­ing to stand up to the lib­eral mob in col­lu­sion with the me­dia than there’s go­ing to be a whole lot of Repub­li­cans ask­ing them­selves: ‘Why am I vot­ing for this party?’ ” said Scott Jen­nings, an ad­viser to Mc­Connell.

The bi­fur­cated cam­paign over the Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion came into fo­cus quickly at the end of the week, as Demo­cratic


House can­di­dates crit­i­cized Ka­vanaugh, while their Se­nate coun­ter­parts treaded far more care­fully.

In dis­tricts from sub­ur­ban New Jersey to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, Demo­cratic chal­lengers is­sued state­ments of sup­port for Ford, while sev­eral Repub­li­can in­cum­bents drew fire by ques­tion­ing her cred­i­bil­ity, some­times in de­ri­sive terms. In a Los An­ge­le­sarea dis­trict, Har­ley Rouda, a Demo­crat, ac­cused Rep. Dana Rohrabache­r of treat­ing sex­ual as­sault as a “laugh­ing mat­ter” after dis­miss­ing the al­le­ga­tions.

And Tom Mali­nowski, a Demo­cratic chal­lenger in a cru­cial New Jersey House dis­trict, re­leased a dig­i­tal ad chid­ing Rep. Leonard Lance, the Repub­li­can in­cum­bent, for hav­ing said days ear­lier that he was dis­in­clined to be­lieve the al­le­ga­tions against Ka­vanaugh.

Demo­cratic can­di­dates for gov­er­nor, in­clud­ing in im­por­tant bat­tle­ground states like Florida and Michi­gan, sided em­phat­i­cally with Ford. An­drew Gil­lum, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for gov­er­nor in Florida, called on Ka­vanaugh on Thurs­day to with­draw his nom­i­na­tion.

But Repub­li­cans ex­pressed con­fi­dence that Ka­vanaugh’s tes­ti­mony had ral­lied vot­ers on the right, shoring up his chances of even­tual con­fir­ma­tion and en­dan­ger­ing Se­nate Democrats in red states who vote against him.

Chris Jankowski – one of the lead strate­gists ad­vis­ing the Ju­di­cial Cri­sis Net­work, the main group ad­vo­cat­ing Ka­vanaugh’s con­fir­ma­tion – said the judge’s tes­ti­mony had ef­fec­tively ral­lied red­state vot­ers be­hind him. Law­mak­ers from those states would suf­fer for op­pos­ing the nom­i­nee, Jankowski said, though he al­lowed that Repub­li­cans could pay a price in con­gres­sional and gu­ber­na­to­rial races for his con­fir­ma­tion.

“After yes­ter­day, no Repub­li­can sen­a­tor can ex­pect to run for re-elec­tion hav­ing not voted for Ka­vanaugh,” he said. “Sens. Manchin and Heitkamp must vote for Ka­vanaugh to have even a glim­mer of hope to win in Novem­ber. The num­bers are just that clear.”


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Demo­crat who hasn’t taken a po­si­tion on Ka­vanaugh, is de­fend­ing one of the Se­nate seats most likely to flip to a GOP chal­lenger.

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