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Republicans' midterm election prospects suffer fresh blow with Kavanaugh doubts

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By David M. Drucker, Washington Examiner

The Republican Party’s dimming midterm election prospects suffered a fresh blow Monday as doubts grew about the confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, federal appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Eleventh hour sexual misconduct allegations were threatening to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination after his confirmation appeared all but unstoppable. Delays could ease pressure on vulnerable red-state Senate Democrats to break ranks and support Kavanaugh. For congressional Republicans, the judge’s defeat at the hands of GOP defectors could have devastating political consequences.

“It would be difficult to imagine a more disastrous recipe for depressing Republican base turnout in November than if Republicans folded in the face of these allegations, under the circumstances,” Gregg Keller, a St. Louis-based Republican operative told the Washington Examiner.

The multiple Republicans interviewed for this story emphasized that their views on the matter are reliant on the facts as they understood them.

Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor in Northern California, is alleging that Kavanaugh, 53, sexually assaulted her more than 30 years ago at a party in suburban D.C., when both were in high school. Kavanaugh and a friend from that time who has been identified as a witness flatly deny not just the accusations but being participants in any event that might have been misconstrued or misremembered.

Until the allegations surfaced late last week in the form a vague statement issued by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kavanaugh was headed toward a Thursday vote in the Judiciary Committee that was expected to favorably report his nomination to the floor for consideration by the full Senate. Kavanaugh had emerged strong from tough questioning in Judiciary hearings.

Now that vote is delayed so the committee can bring back Kavanaugh on Sept. 24, with plans to grill him and Ford on the accusations. With Kavanaugh’s confirmation resting on the GOP’s one-seat majority, Republican leaders didn’t a choice.

But for conservative activists who feel slighted by a Republican establishment it believes is unwilling to fight for their priorities even with full control of Washington, the episode is another frustrating capitulation to the Democrats. That sentiment could discourage them from voting in the midterm elections, further jeopardizing Republican majorities in Congress.

“Tell me again: Why am I voting?” said Steve Deace, a conservative talk show host in Des Moines who hosts a show for CRTV, a digital network founded by conservative radio host Mark Levin. “They are punting on every fight.”

In 2016, the debate over a vacant seat on the Supreme Court helped motivate the GOP base and convince Republicans skeptical of Trump to stick with him over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. When Justice Anthony Kennedy, for years a key swing vote on the high court, announced he would retire in July, Republicans relished the opportunity for a confirmation fight in the thick of the fall campaign.

The GOP saw the Supreme Court as an issue they could use to energize the Right, and in the process protect its endangered 23-seat House majority from super-charged Democratic voters that data shows are more enthusiastic than Republicans in a contest shaping up as a backlash against Trump. In the Senate, where a favorable map is shielding Republicans from a possible blue wave, the confirmation vote was an extra insurance policy.

That strategy is showing signs of collapse. Republican activists are scoffing as GOP centrists, and some conservatives, waver on Kavanaugh. The Democratic base, until now resigned to his confirmation because the party lacks the numbers in the Senate to block him, smells blood.

“This feeds into an existing dynamic we see with voters in the check-and-balance questions: Are you going to do what's right, or just stand with your party?” said a Democratic operative, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. “The focus of that is on Republicans, because the division on that lives in the Republican caucus.”

Senate Democrats running for re-election in pro-Trump states have the most to lose on Kavanaugh, and their Republican challengers have been hammering them for months. But on Monday, three of them — Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — signaled they could oppose his confirmation, issuing statements that urged for a delay in the process pending more hearings.

Last year, all three voted to install Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, now-Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Meanwhile, We Demand Justice, an umbrella of liberal groups intent on sinking Kavanaugh, announced it was investing $700,000 to sway Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, two critical votes. The group also is trying to squeeze Republican Sen. Dean Heller, embroiled in a difficult re-election in Nevada; and Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who is up for re-election in Colorado, a swing state, in 2020.

The specter of sexual misconduct in a political era defined by the “#MeToo” movement also adds a layer of complexity for Republicans to navigate. The GOP is dealing with fierce midterm headwinds in large part because educated suburban women who usually vote Republican for Congress are drifting from the party over dissatisfaction with Trump.

Perceived indifference to women and the challenges they face on sexual matters has cost Republicans elections in past years. Indeed, Donnelly won in Indiana in 2012 primarily because his GOP opponent made insensitive, ill-timed remarks about abortion. The same is true for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

At a time when any hint of sexual impropriety, no matter how far in the past and how questionable, has become publicly unacceptable, Republicans, and the Kavanaugh nomination, are probably in a much different spot than the party was in 1991, when Justice Clarence Thomas, nominated by President George H.W. Bush, faced similar though more recent allegations.

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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Republicans' midterm election prospects suffer fresh blow with Kavanaugh doubts
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