The Corner


Do Democratic Senators Really Want to Re-Litigate the Kavanaugh Fight?

Anti-Kavanaugh protesters outside the Supreme Court, October 6, 2018. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Over at CNN, Harry Enten reminds readers that whether or not Kavanaugh-bashing is good politics in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary or general election, it was a bad issue for Democrats in the 2018 Senate races they were hoping to win:

The 2018 exit polls suggest that Kavanaugh was a net negative for Democrats across the Senate landscape. One question on some state exit polls asked voters whether a senator’s Kavanaugh nomination vote was important to them. In every state but one (Florida) where the Republican senator voted for Kavanaugh or the Democratic senator voted against him, it was a net negative for the Democratic Senate nominee.

In these seven states (all but one carried by Trump in 2016), those who said a senator’s Kavanaugh vote was important to their choice for Senate were far more likely to vote Republican for Senate. In these states, the Republican Senate candidates won by an average of 18 points among those who said a senator’s Kavanaugh vote was important to them. Among those who said the Kavanaugh vote wasn’t important, the Democratic Senate candidate won by an average of 7 points.

He theorizes that Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana could have saved himself by voting for Kavanaugh.

Different senators are up for reelection next year. Democrats are telling themselves the Kavanaugh vote will sink Susan Collins in Maine, but they make some variation of that argument every six years, and Collins usually wins pretty comfortably. We don’t know what the national political environment for Republicans will be like in November 2020, but it’s hard  to imagine that it will be dramatically worse than 2008, and that year Collins won 61 percent of the vote when Barack Obama was carrying the state with more than 57 percent.

Maybe the Kavanaugh vote doesn’t help Cory Gardner in Colorado, but the state’s progressive activists were already fired up with Trump at the top of the ticket. The Arizona exit poll didn’t ask voters if Kavanaugh was a factor (neither candidate was an incumbent who had voted on the nomination) but obviously the issue and controversy wasn’t enough to put Martha McSally over the top. (Let’s also recognize that Senator Kirsten Sinema is living up to the hype of being a different kind of Democrat, breaking from her party on some key votes.)

Then there’s Alabama’s Doug Jones, who faces a steep uphill climb whether or not the Kavanaugh nomination battle is rehashed again.

If you’re a Senate Democrat, wouldn’t you rather talk to voters about the consequences of future court nominees than the big fight of 2018?

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