Kavanaugh’s Testimony Has Cornered Vulnerable Senate Democrats

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Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary committee yesterday could not have gone worse for the Democratic party.  

While Christine Blasey Ford and her allegations were deemed credible by most who watched, Kavanaugh stole the show with an emphatic denial of these claims, while simultaneously stating that he believed Ford could be credible.  More important than his denial, however, was the tone he took regarding the Senate Democrats questioning him:

Kavanaugh went directly after those who put together this “calculated and orchestrated” release of allegations, making it less about Ford and more about the Democratic Senators who launched the accusations.  Everything about his testimony – from the emotional and gut-wrenching opening statement, to his testy replies to Democrat demands for an FBI “investigation”, to Republican defense of his treatment – was an extremely pointed rebuttal of everyone calling for him to withdraw his nomination.

Most importantly, his testimony more than likely ingratiated him with Americans on both sides of the aisle.  His opening statement, full of emotion, is worth watching in its entirity, and has been reproduced below:

While Kavanaugh’s confirmation is not a sure thing, it has put the most vulnerable Senate Democrats in the Midterm Elections in an awful position – and none of them even had the opportunity to question him.  Feinstein’s political theater was designed to delay the nomination, providing the necessary cover for these Senators to safely vote against Kavanaugh after the elections, without having to face the voters.  However, his strong testimony gave Republicans the confidence to move Kavanaugh’s vote out of committee and to a full Senate vote.

As FMShooter pointed out in our 2018 Midterm Election Guide, there are a number of “blue dog” incumbent Senate Democrats that are at major risk in the upcoming election:

  • Florida – Bill Nelson
  • Indiana – Joe Donnelly
  • Missouri – Claire McCaskill
  • Montana – Jon Tester
  • North Dakota – Heidi Heitkamp
  • West Virginia – Joe Manchin

Of these Senators, McCaskill has already stated that she intends to vote against Kavanaugh, and Tester’s “nay” can be expected, as he already voted against Gorsuch’s confirmation.  However, Manchin, an extremely moderate Democrat in a very pro-Trump state, has already indicated that he will vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation:

We still believe Nelson will vote against Kavanaugh, as we earlier stated, but Heitkamp and Donnelly are bigger question marks.  They both voted to confirm Gorsuch, but Kavanaugh is a much more polarizing nominee.  While his testimony was very strong and may sway independents, the DNC’s base will still be heavily against his confirmation.  With these races predicted to be very close, this reduction in Democratic voter turnout could be the difference between winning and losing.

However, their votes are not the only question marks – a number of Republican confirmation votes are not guaranteed either:

  • Alaska – Lisa Murkowski
  • Arizona – Jeff Flake
  • Maine – Susan Collins

The Senate currently stands at 51-49 in favor of the GOP.  Assuming all Democrats (even Manchin) vote against Kavanaugh, Republicans can only afford one defection.  While Flake opted to retire rather than seek re-election, we don’t think he will “flake” on what will likely be the final big vote of his Senate career, and we expect him to confirm Kavanaugh.

However, Collins and Murkowski are in more precarious positions.  Collins is a Republican Senator in a slightly blue state that Hillary Clinton won by three points.  She may not feel she has the room to confirm Kavanaugh and still be re-elected in 2020.  Yet, if she votes against Kavanaugh, President Trump will be all but assured to heavily back a primary challenger to her, and might even be willing to concede the seat to Democrats, if the party cannot count on Collins in crucial votes.

Murkowski, an “establishment” moderate, just won her re-election in 2016, and has plenty of time before she has to face the voters again – she may feel she has enough cover to assume a role as a leader for women by voting against Kavanaugh.  Working against Murkowski, however, will be these images of her with Dianne Feinstein:

Murkowski may not be able to be seen as taking her marching orders from one of the most divisive Democrats in modern-era politics – Mrs. “Turn Them All In” certainly has a very low favorability rating in extremely pro-gun Alaska.

At the end of the day, Collins and Murkowski will likely side with the party and vote to confirm Kavanaugh, if for no other reason that Senator Lindsey Graham’s vociferous defense of Kavanaugh, which might imply what it could mean for their careers:

To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics. You want this seat, I hope you never get it.

While Collins and Murkowski could deliver vulnerable Democrats the necessary cover they require to safely vote to confirm Kavanaugh, their colleagues in the Judiciary Committee have cornered them into a terrible position that very well might cost many of them their own re-election campaigns.