Democrats have a better shot than ever at winning back the House majority with 30 days to go before the midterm elections, but have seen their chances of taking back the Senate erode amid the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
The Kavanaugh saga has dominated politics for a fortnight, energizing partisans on both sides of the aisle. While no one can be certain how the next four weeks will play out, the fight seems likely to hurt Republicans further with the suburban female voters seen as pivotal in many toss-up House districts.
But there are signs that the fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination has helped Republicans close a wide enthusiasm gap with Democrats, who have so far held the edge in momentum.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the GOP’s House campaign arm, saw a 279-percent spike in donations in the first week of October compared to the same period in September. The group did not provide a dollar figure for the haul.
And a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released on Wednesday showed Democrats leading Republicans in voter enthusiasm by only 2 points, down from 10 points in July.
“The Republican Party does three things: cut taxes, kill terrorists and confirm judges,” Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the NRCC, said.
“When we do that, we fire up our base and appeal to independents. We’re about to face voters having done all three.”
That rising enthusiasm is a concern for Democrats. As early as a few weeks ago they had seen a narrow path to retake the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority, but those prospects appear to be dwindling.
Voters angered over the treatment of Kavanaugh appear to be moving toward the GOP’s Senate candidates in deeply red states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE is more popular, including North Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.
Kavanaugh was confirmed to Supreme Court on Saturday, ending days of acrimony in the Senate after three women came forward to accuse the judge of sexual misconduct, though he has strongly denied the accusations.
The vote marks a key victory for Republicans, whose base rallied around Kavanaugh, believing the judge was the victim of a partisan smear campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote GOP senator to try to reverse requirement that Pentagon remove Confederate names from bases No, ‘blue states’ do not bail out ‘red states’ MORE (R-Ky.) on Saturday hailed the confirmation of Kavanaugh as a major boost to Senate Republican candidates in the midterms.
For Republicans, the biggest boost will be in a series of competitive Senate races, as Democrats must defend 10 seats in states Trump won in 2016, mainly in North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia.
In North Dakota, two recent polls showed Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (D) trailing her GOP challenger, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerRepublicans prepare to punt on next COVID-19 relief bill GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police Trump tweets spark fresh headache for Republicans MORE (N.D.), by 10- and 12-point margins.
And despite polling showing strong support for Kavanaugh in a state that Trump won by nearly 36 points, Heitkamp voted against confirming Kavanaugh, saying the Senate testimony of one of Kavanaugh’s accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, had been a key factor in her decision.
In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE, another vulnerable Democrat in a red state, also opposed the judge in the final confirmation vote in a state where polling has shown a tight race.
A recent Fox News poll showed Donnelly leading his Republican challenger Mike Braun by only 2 points — well within the survey’s margin of error.
But another vulnerable red-state Democrat, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE (W.Va.), broke party ranks when he voted to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, mitigating the risk of GOP attacks in the final stretch of his reelection campaign against West Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
A GOP strategist told The Hill that private polling shows that the Kavanaugh nomination ranks as a top issue, alongside jobs and the economy, in West Virginia as well as in North Dakota.
Meanwhile Democrats are seeing deep-red states where they had hoped for a narrow path now slip away.
In Texas, momentum appeared to be shifting toward Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump’s public standing sags after Floyd protests GOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police MORE (R), who said he raised $12 million in the third fundraising quarter of the year. And a recent Quinnipiac poll showed the senator with a 9-point lead over opponent Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D).
In Tennessee, a Fox News poll showed Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP senators introduce resolution opposing calls to defund the police GOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters Five things to know about Trump’s legal power under the Insurrection Act MORE (R) leading former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) by 5 points.
Bredesen also faced more bad news after a major Democratic super PAC said it would not spend resources to boost his campaign after he said he supports Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Meanwhile, Republican ads seizing on the Supreme Court fight began hitting airwaves in Missouri and Montana — two red states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents — last week before the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh.
In Montana, an ad from Republican Matt Rosendale hit Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate confirms Trump’s watchdog for coronavirus funds Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (D) and Senate Democrats over their handling of allegations against Kavanaugh.
And in Missouri, Republican Josh Hawley accused Senate Democrats and his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties Senate faces protracted floor fight over judges amid pandemic safety concerns Amash on eyeing presidential bid: ‘Millions of Americans’ want someone other than Trump, Biden MORE (D), of creating a “circus” around the nomination in an ad of his own.
The big unknown, however, is whether the surge in Republican enthusiasm will continue to reverberate through Election Day now the the fight for Kavanaugh’s nomination is over.
“If Kavanaugh is confirmed, perhaps Republicans will feel less of a need to turn out,” Michael Cornfield, the co-director of the George Washington University Poll, told Hill.TV Friday ahead of the confirmation vote.
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“If he’s turned down, [Republicans] may surpass Democrats intensity,” he added.
But the picture is different for the House, where strategists warn Kavanaugh’s confirmation will likely fuel Democratic turnout in the midterms.
The nomination fight sparked major protests that erupted in the Senate, and hundreds of demonstrators — many of whom were women — were arrested days before the final vote.
Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to ram through Kavanaugh’s confirmation, ignoring credible allegations of sexual misconduct and the nominee’s fiery testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats have a much more favorable map as they look to flip the 23 seats they need to regain control of the House, with many of the key battleground races being fought in suburban districts where Republicans have shown signs of struggling to win over women.
Public polls show a widening gender gap, with women tending to favor Democrats over Republicans, and outrage over Kavanaugh’s nomination could drive the wedge even deeper.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently rates 31 House races as “toss-ups,” while 12 are seen as “leaning Democratic,” after recently shifting a slew of races in favor of Democrats, including the seats held by Reps. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderSharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: ‘The facts are uncontested’ Feehery: How Republicans can win back the suburbs K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (R-Kan.), Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Republicans can’t exploit the left’s climate extremism without a better idea Progressive Latino group launches first incumbent protection campaign MORE (R-Fla.), and Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe biggest political upsets of the decade Former GOP lawmaker: Trump’s tweets have to stop Congressional Women’s Softball team releases roster MORE (R-Utah).
The winds favoring Democrats are seen in other ways.
Sixty Democratic House hopefuls topped the $1 million mark in fundraising between July and September, while 30 passed the $2 million mark and eight raked in more than $3 million, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said Thursday.
And the DCCC itself has also seen a surge in fundraising. The group announced Friday that small-dollar donations increased 467 percent in the last week of September compared to the prior week, the committee said Friday. The total amount raised that week was up 277 percent to $4.38 million.
Democratic House hopefuls have sought in recent weeks to capitalize on Kavanaugh’s nomination.
In New Jersey’s 7th District, for example, Democrat Tom Malinowski hit Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceGun debate to shape 2020 races GOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Bottom Line MORE (R) in an ad for dismissing the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
And in Georgia’s 6th District, Democrat Lucy McBath criticized her Republican opponent, Rep. Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelJon Ossoff to challenge David Perdue after winning Georgia Democratic primary The Hill’s Campaign Report: Bad polling data is piling up for Trump Ossoff within reach of Democratic Senate nomination in Georgia, but counting continues MORE (R-Ga.), for her previous praise of Kavanaugh, telling The Associated Press in an interview last month that Handel “has stood by Brett Kavanaugh and refused to speak out on any of these accusations.”
Jon Reinish, a New York-based Democratic strategist, said that Kavanaugh’s confirmation had angered Democrats and predicted they would turn out in force, while Republicans would be less motivated.
“The Republican base will see that they got what they wanted,” he said. “I don’t think that people turn out to say thank you.”
Reinish said that the confirmation would fuel much more than a Democratic “blue wave” in November. He predicted instead a “tsunami.”
“If the Republicans thought they had a problem before, they have an earthquake now, because you cannot understate the rage and you cannot understate the emotion and you cannot understate the mobilization of Democrats after this,” he said.
— Lisa Hagen contributed