Kavanaugh bump? GOP fights for new energy as vote nears
New York – On the brink of a political gender war, President Donald Trump’s Republican Party is threatening to erode Democrats’ enthusiasm advantage as the fiery debate over his Supreme Court nominee enters its final phase.
Political strategists in both parties suggest the GOP’s enthusiastic embrace of Brett Kavanaugh despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct may have shifted the political landscape – at least temporarily – by injecting new energy into the most passionate Republican voters a month before the election. Trump’s aggressive defense of Kavanaugh – and more recent attacks against his female accuser – have resonated particularly with white working-class men, who are a shrinking voting bloc nationally but remain a critical segment of Trump’s political base.
For now, many men apparently agree with Trump’s warning that the surge in women speaking out against sexual violence in the #MeToo era has created “a very scary time” for men in America.
“Democrats have been trying to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh since the very first second he was announced,” Trump declared as he rallied voters in Minnesota on Thursday night. He added: “What they’re putting him through and his family is incredible.”
Energy is everything in midterm elections, which typically draw fewer eligible voters to the polls. And through the first 21 months of the Trump era, Democrats have claimed an undisputed enthusiasm advantage – as evidenced by a slate of special election victories and fundraising successes.
Yet even a small erosion in the so-called enthusiasm gap could make a big difference in the Democratic Party’s high-stakes push to wrest control of Congress from the GOP.
The effect is most visible in Republican-leaning states where vulnerable Democratic senators are running for re-election. Public and private polling in recent days has shifted in the GOP candidate’s favor in West Virginia, Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota.
The Kavanaugh debate “is making the two groups of people who are already mad at each other in America even madder. To me, the question is, who is maddest?” said Gary Pearce, a veteran North Carolina Democratic strategist.
Just as Trump benefited from opposition to Hillary Clinton in his 2016 election, the GOP could benefit from opposition to the Democratic Party’s handling of Kavanaugh this midterm season.
“This may be energizing the right – especially people who don’t like Trump and may not have been motivated to vote,” Pearce said. “This is the substitute for Hillary.”
The Supreme Court clash has already attracted a surge of new campaign cash for both parties.
The Republican National Committee and its associated groups raised more than $3 million in digital donations this past weekend, the most it’s ever raised online, according to GOP spokeswoman Cassie Smedile. And last Sunday was the GOP’s highest single-day online fundraising haul.
The GOP says the fundraising surge is fueled by anger over how allegations of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh have played out.
On the other side, the online Democratic fundraising portal ActBlue pulled in $25 million in just two days, while Emily’s List, a group that aims to elect more Democratic women, also set a record for online fundraising.
Trump and his lieutenants on Capitol Hill tried to stoke that same anger on Thursday as they outlined an aggressive timeline for the Kavanaugh confirmation. A round of Senate voting is expected Friday, with the final vote likely Saturday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that an FBI supplemental background investigation didn’t corroborate any of the allegations against the Supreme Court nominee. The Kentucky Republican said senators wouldn’t be “hoodwinked” by those who have tried to “smear” Kavanaugh’s reputation.
“This is a search and destroy mission,” the second-ranking Senate Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, added.
The GOP’s support of Kavanaugh puts the party at odds with the rising #MeToo movement that has empowered women across America to share their stories of sexual violence. The movement has triggered the downfall of powerful men in media, sports and politics – Republicans and Democrats alike.
“It’s a very scary time for young men,” Trump said this week. A day later, he mocked Kavanaugh’s accuser’s memory of the alleged sexual assault.
Many women, backed by liberal men, have been outraged by Trump’s comments.
“The idea that it’s a terrible time to be a young, white guy is completely absurd,” said Florida-based Democratic strategist Steve Schale.
He noted, however, there is “some evidence that the Kavanaugh stuff is galvanizing Republicans, particularly Republican men.”
“It’s coming at a price,” Schale added. “We’re seeing Republican women throw their hands up.”
Indeed, while Trump often states, falsely, that he won the women’s vote in 2016, Democrats have enjoyed an advantage with women for most of the last three decades.
Political strategist Matthew Dowd, a former Republican who has criticized Trump, said it’s unclear so far whether GOP energy behind Kavanaugh represents “some men on social media” or a “movement.”
“I’ve always been a believer that the most motivating factor in these elections is who is the angriest,” Dowd said. “Whoever loses is going to be the angriest.”
While Kavanaugh may be helping Republican candidates in deep-red states, a Quinnipiac University poll released this week shows that opposition to Kavanaugh nationally is actually growing, as is the gender gap.
Women overall oppose the confirmation, 55 percent to 37 percent, while men support it 49 percent to 40 percent, Quinnipiac found.
The Trump White House is expected to intensify its support for Kavanaugh as the final vote approaches.
“You can feel the energy both for the president and for his nominee in Brett Kavanaugh,” Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News. “People are outraged at the way that the Democrats have totally made this process into a partisan battle and they’ve created something that should never have happened.”
She continued: “And I think the message is very clear: Dems, you made a mistake here and it’s going to show up in November.”
AP writer Brian Slodysko in Indianapolis and Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
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