Sprint to Nov. 6: The race to frame the Kavanaugh story
Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court fired the starting pistol for the final sprint to Election Day in the United States, with control of the House and Senate at stake.
The nation’s reckoning with power and who to believe about sexual misconduct has generated a new anger factor among the electorate and made the Nov. 6 balloting a referendum on more than President Donald Trump.
A look at what to watch over the final four weeks:
KAVANAUGH, TO THE COURT
Trump swore in Kavanaugh Saturday as the nation’s 114th member of the Supreme Court after a savage battle that splintered the Senate and riveted the country. Kavanaugh took his oath of office to his lifetime seat just hours after the climactic 50-48 roll call. It was the narrowest Senate vote to confirm a justice since 1881.
It was a fitting result for a 100-member chamber that represents a nation deeply split over an array of issues, from health care to who should be considered an American. A yawning divide has opened in the last year over whether allegations of sexual misconduct should be enough to topple accused men from the pinnacle of their professions.
Enter Kavanaugh, the appellate court judge accused by Christine Blasey Ford in emotional sworn testimony of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s, while the two were in high school. Accusations from other women followed, none corroborated.
Kavanaugh denies that he ever sexually assaulted anyone. In a frequently-shouted sworn statement of his own, he decried the Senate for putting his nomination in jeopardy.
Trump is holding a ceremonial swearing-in for Kavanaugh Monday evening in the White House East Room.
THE KAVANAUGH EFFECT
The Kavanaugh confirmation has blown open the midterm elections from being a national referendum on Trump’s stewardship to a raw emotional discussion over the lack of women in power and how to handle sexual misconduct allegations.
With Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court, Republicans, long dispirited by Trump’s string of scandals and the prospect of losing their congressional majorities, are whooping it up.
“It’s turned our base on fire,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. He added Monday that the fight over Kavanaugh, particularly that his nomination was stymied by unproven allegations, injected the GOP with an “adrenaline shot that we had not been able to figure out how to achieve in any other way.”
What’s unclear is whether GOP unity is enough to preserve the GOP power in Congress.
The same question faces the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct after the White House successfully argued that the Kavanaugh allegations should not be conflated with the rest of the movement.
Even before the confirmation, Kavanaugh’s opponents had a comeback line, printed on the back of jackets they wore to the Capitol:
“November is coming.”
Almost immediately after the Senate vote, Democrats felt the chill from faraway North Dakota. That’s the state Trump won by 36 percentage points against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. And even before the Kavanaugh controversy, the Senate race there was among a handful of close contests that could decide whether Republicans keep control of the Senate, where they have a 51-49 majority.
Then on Saturday, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp defied her state’s support for Trump and voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Heitkamp said she was concerned about Kavanaugh’s temperament after his emotional performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Without hesitation,” Heitkamp told reporters, she believed Ford.
Polls have put her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, comfortably ahead.
He told The New York Times that #MeToo was a “movement toward victimization” that had caused a backlash. “The world got to see close up how ugly it can be when you go too far,” he’s quoted as saying.
FRAMING THE STORY
Now it’s a four-week race to tell the story.
Trump has a busy campaign schedule to spread the word that the allegations against Kavanaugh were a “hoax that was set up by the Democrats” at what he’s called a dangerous time for men who can be falsely accused. “I think you’re going to see a lot of things happen on Nov. 6 that would not have happened before,” Trump said Monday as he departed for an event in Florida.
This week alone, he’s expected to hold rallies in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky.
McConnell has cast Kavanaugh’s opponents, many of whom protested in the halls of the Senate and yelled at lawmakers, as “the mob.”
Democrats are pointing to the Republicans’ handling of the Kavanaugh confirmation as one more reason to oppose the president who nominated him and mocked Ford.
“Folks who feel very strongly one way or the other about the issues in front of us should get out and vote,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Look for Kavanaugh’s confirmation to remain a major issue, even though governors don’t have a direct say in the matter. Republican candidates in heavily Democratic states previously called for further investigation of sexual assault claims against Kavanaugh and their Democratic opponents said that wasn’t enough.
Democrats are expected to take over some of the governors’ offices now held by the GOP, which controls a near-record 33 offices.
Thirty-six states are electing governors this year, with competitive races in states where the Republican incumbents are stepping aside as they hit term limits, including in the swing states of Florida, Nevada and Ohio.
The Democratic candidates in Florida, Georgia and Maryland are seeking to be the first black governors there.
Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing to pick up seats in increasingly Democratic Colorado and Oregon while keeping them in most of New England as well as the South and much of the West.
Yep, they’re already running — especially two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who had visible roles during the Kavanaugh hearings.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., made a beeline from the Senate confirmation vote on Saturday for Iowa and the Democrats’ big fall fundraiser there.
“We’re not defined by a president who mocks a hero, Dr. (Christine) Blasey Ford. We’re not defined by a president who doesn’t believe women,” Booker told about 1,000 activists.
The next day, Sen. Kamala Harris turned up in politically important Ohio, where she reminded more than 1,000 of the party faithful at the Ohio Democratic Party’s fall fundraising dinner that she walked out of the Kavanaugh proceedings at one point because they had become “a sham and a disgrace.”
She said she doesn’t believe the Kavanaugh story is over.
“Truth is like the sun: It always comes up in the morning,” she said. “And on these issues that were presented during those hearings, I believe the truth will eventually reveal itself.”
Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Louisville, Ky., and Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, N.J., contributed to this report.