Pricey ad war begins over Kavanaugh
Conservatives, liberals target high-court votes
WASHINGTON – A half-dozen moderate senators are about to get slammed with at least $6 million in television and digital ads aimed at swaying their decision on whether to back Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
Conservative and liberal advocacy groups have mapped out multimilliondollar campaigns targeting the halfdozen or so lawmakers seen as swing votes – drawing up details even before Trump announced Monday that he was nominating Kavanaugh, 53, a federal appeals court judge.
If the Senate confirms Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, his addition to the court could shift it further to the right for decades. Kennedy was a key swing vote in cases upholding abortion, affirmative action and gay rights. Liberal and conservative activists alike believe Kavanaugh is more reliably conservative on those and other issues.
“There’s a couple things that make this not only the most important Supreme Court fight in a generation but also a winnable one,” said Josh Orton, a legal consultant for NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights group that has already launched ads targeting Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, and plans to expand its blitz this week.
“This seat is the balance between upholding many of the most cherished, long-held ingrained rights and freedoms or having them gutted by a much more extreme movement,” Orton said. “Democrats and progressives are more activated and hungrier to get involved than I think they’ve been in a very long time.”
Republicans have a razor-thin 51-49 majority in the Senate, which means Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has little room for defections if all the Democrats vote against Kavanaugh. Conservative groups, however, are focusing on moderate Democrats in hopes of getting a handful to support Kavanaugh, which would solidify his chances.
Among the Democratic senators who are being targeted are Doug Jones of Alabama, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
“It’s going to be very hard for Democrats in red states to justify blocking such an outstanding nominee,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, which has announced a $2.4 million ad campaign aimed at pressuring Heitkamp, Donnelly, Manchin and Jones to support Kavanaugh.
The network spent about $7 million on its campaign supporting the confirmation of Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, and Severino said the group will increase its spending on Kavanaugh as needed.
“We will do what it takes,” she said. The Judicial Crisis Network is part of a broader coalition of conservative groups working in concert on the campaign. Other players include the National Rifle Association; the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group; and Americans for Prosperity, an activist group supported by the fundraising network led by industrialist Charles Koch.
While all modern-day Supreme Court confirmation battles are bitter, expensive affairs, this one promises to be a scorched-earth campaign that floods the airwaves for months to come. And all the money and messaging will be directed at a narrow band of senators who hold Kavanaugh’s fate in their hands.
“The Republicans have been trying to capture a ready, working majority on the Supreme Court since the day Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968,” said Stephen Wermeil, a law professor at American University.
And, Wermeil noted, “however you see Kavanaugh, he will tip the balance of the Supreme Court.”
Officials with a leading pro-Trump group, America First Policies, say they are preparing a campaign to support Trump’s choice and pressure red-state Democrats to back the nominee.
Erin Montgomery, America First Policies’ spokeswoman, said the group expects a fight lasting into late September.
The plan is still unfolding, but organizers say they will be watching the statements and actions of at least seven Senate Democrats, including Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Jones. All represent states Trump won in 2016, and all but Jones are up for reelection in the Nov. 6 midterms.
Liberal groups will focus on two moderate Republicans: Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both senators support abortion rights, and both bucked their party when Senate GOP leaders tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Brett Kavanaugh was hand-picked for Trump by fringe groups because he would be a reliable vote on the Supreme Court to undermine Roe v. Wade and destroy access to health care for millions,” Nan Aron, head of the liberal Alliance for Justice Action Campaign, said.
“We know this is an uphill battle, but far too much is at stake for anything less than an all-out campaign,” Aron said.
Another group, Demand Justice, has pledged to spend $5 million on a campaign to defeat Kavanaugh. The group is airing ads pressing Collins and Murkowski to oppose Trump’s nominee.
“This seat is the balance between upholding many of the most cherished, long-held ingrained rights and freedoms or having them gutted by a much more extreme movement.” Josh Orton consultant, NARAL Pro-Choice America
Pro-life and pro-choice groups clash at the Supreme Court. CAMILLE FINE/USA TODAY