It seems there really is something to the argument the Kavanaugh nomination is reaping electoral benefits for the GOP. Contrary to the prognostications of how suburban women in key Senate battlegrounds would turn away from the GOP over their steadfast refusal to ruin the life of an outstanding federal judge nominated to the Supreme Court, the opposite has happened. Republicans stood up for their man, won a major fight and in turn are actually seeing their prospects not just in the Senate but also the House improve.
Ground zero for the argument the Senate map has dramatically improved for Republicans is Tennessee. The supposedly safe GOP seat being vacated by Senator Bob Corker has been neck and neck according to the polls. Democrats nominated former Governor Phil Bredensen who still has some moderate credentials while the GOP nominated conservative firebrand Marsha Blackburn. It should be noted Blackburn actually has been a strong GOP nominee as she is both liked by the establishment and conservative wing of the party.
Note how I said the race “has” been competitive. The debate over Kavanaugh not only energized conservatives and Republican leaning voters why they should vote a partisan ticket but also put Bredensen in a politically tricky spot. In the days before the nomination the former Governor said he would have voted for Kavanaugh in an effort to appeal to conservatives. But the plan seems to have backfired. Not only has such a statement failed to appeal to conservatives but it also appears to have cost Bredesen support among liberal volunteers and donors. In a recently concluded debate in Knoxville, Tennessee, Blackburn, sensing blood in the water, attacked the former Governor over his ties to national Democrats and reminded Republicans he will say what is necessary to get elected but won’t act that way. The most recent polls have shown Blackburn up by five, eight and 14 points.
Tennessee is not the only contest the Kavanaugh nomination has roiled. Despite Democratic superstar Beto O’Rourke’s rock-star image and fundraising numbers the contest has taken a turn toward Senator Ted Cruz. Whereas some polls had the race within the margin of error, Cruz’s lead in every survey since October has had him ahead of Beto by numbers larger than the margin of error. Money can keep Beto in the race, he fundraised a massive $38 million, but it is not getting him near the finish line. Indeed, former suburban voters on the fence it seems to have pushed them to support Ted Cruz, even if they oppose him on substance. After-all, the Supreme Court is at stake.
Finally, we come to North Dakota. Whereas both Tennessee and Texas are seeing Democrats attempt to win in red states, North Dakota features a Democratic incumbent, Heidi Heitkamp, running in a decidedly Republican state for reelection. Unlike Joe Manchin, she also does not have the ancestral Democratic roots of her state to rely on. Also, unlike Joe Manchin, she finds herself trying to explain why she voted against Kavanaugh.
Heitkamp benefited in 2012 from running against a flawed challenger and she also is running against a less than stellar Republican, Congressman Kevin Cramer. That said, Cramer has been savvy enough to not play to Heitkamp’s game of being boxed into a corner of attacking women. Heitkamp explains her opposition to Kavanaugh by saying there was enough evidence to oppose his ascension to the High Court. Cramer has said he would back the former nominee and used the vote to showcase Heitkamp’s liberal bent. It seems to have worked. The DSCC seems to have given up on her and Republicans are acting confident. In other states, most notably Missouri, the GOP seems to have gained an edge. In Arizona, where GOP nominee Martha McSally would benefit from any surge in GOP turnout the benefit has been indirect but shown in recent polls.
While polling in the House has been more indirect it is clear the GOP is coming off one of its best weeks in months (in terms of polling). A number of polls on second-tier GOP held races have seen the GOP in control. While this might not sound like much the House playing field is unlevel some GOP incumbents in dark blue districts are holding on meaning Democrats will need to steal some GOP seats. In some top-tier held GOP seats, such as North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, a mix of heavily suburban and educated cities and rural towns, the kind of district most likely to flip, polling has shown the GOP rebounding. In the heavily suburban NY-1, FL-16 and most surprisingly the WA-8, the GOP candidates are posting strong numbers. Maybe they fade as GOP enthusiasm wanes but for the first time in awhile the GOP has a shot at holding the house.
The question is whether money will shift these races left. Democrats posted jaw dropping totals in over 50 contests and the DCCC and accompanying Super PACs have a boatload of cash they intended to spend. In fact, $20 million in 13 highly contested races between now and November. Still, all in all, the Kavanaugh battle has not only benefited Republicans in the Senate but given them a ray of sunshine in the House.