The country is closely following the Brett Kavanaugh saga, but will it sway voters in November?
In an era when the everyday deluge of news coming out of Washington can often feel too overwhelming, the Senate hearing last week to examine allegations of sexual assault against President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee seems to have broken through to an unusual degree.
Nielsen, the ratings agency, estimated nearly 20 percent of American households with a TV watched the hearing, while Google data on search trends showed Kavanaugh was a rare political story to eclipse pop culture and other news.
Partisans on both sides say what’s happening with Kavanaugh will matter at the ballot box and, with the announcement of the FBI investigation on Friday and a delay in the Senate confirmation vote, it will remain front and center as Election Day approaches.
Independent polls and election handicappers have found recently that Democrats are solidifying their status as favorites to retake the House. The Senate, where several Democratic incumbents face tough races in states Trump won by large margins, looks less likely for the Democrats to capture, but their fortunes have been improving with candidates in Texas and Tennessee mounting unexpectedly strong challenges to GOP incumbents.
In Indiana, Republican Mike Braun, who is challenging vulnerable Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, slammed his opponent last week for participating in a “media circus designed to smear and destroy Judge Kavanaugh’s reputation.” Nonetheless, Donnelly announced Friday he will vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation if it reaches the Senate floor.
The issue is also bleeding into campaigns for the House and governor, even though those offices have no impact on whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not.
In New Jersey, Democrat challenger Tom Malinowski is running an ad hitting Republican Rep. Leonard Lance over his pro-Kavanaugh comments, while Democratic officials expect Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., to face heat for her own remarks. She has been a prominent advocate for the #MeToo movement in Congress, but is a friend of Kavanaugh’s and has declined to say whether she believes his accusers.
Democrats predicted the wave of women who marched against Trump, shared stories of abuse in the #MeToo era, and powered female candidates to primary victories this year, would only build after watching Christine Blasey Ford’s poised testimony on Thursday describing Kavanaugh laughing as he assaulted her. A record number of women are running for Congress this year, and 75 percent of them are Democrats.
“The women of this country identify with Dr. Ford and will not forget what is happening here,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “They are not angry, they are furious, and I expect the largest women’s turnout in a midterm — ever.”
Democrats likened the turn of events to the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, which ended with his confirmation to the Supreme Court, but also inspired a surge of elected women and shined a national spotlight on sexual harassment.
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SOURCE: NBC News, Alex Seitz-Wald and Benjy Sarlin