Pricey ad war be­gins over Ka­vanaugh

Con­ser­va­tives, lib­er­als tar­get high-court votes

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Deirdre Sh­es­green USA TO­DAY Con­tribut­ing: Fre­dreka Schouten

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

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