Senate candidates avoid giving views on Kagan nomination

Senate candidates in tight races across the country have shied away from taking a firm position on Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court.


Republican Senate candidates Mark Kirk in Illinois and Carly Fiorina in California, who must attract the votes of independents and Democrats in states carried easily in 2008 by President Barack Obama, have yet to say how they’d vote on Obama’s second nominee to the Supreme Court.

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Three Democrats facing conservative electorates this fall, Jack Conway in Kentucky, Robin Carnahan in Missouri and Rep. Charlie Melancon in Louisiana, also have shied away from endorsing Kagan, who is expected to sail through a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on her nomination on Tuesday.

One common denominator is that in each of those races, candidates on the fence face opponents who have offered a clear yes or no on Kagan’s nomination.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul (R) came out against Kagan. A campaign spokesman told The Hill that Paul would be a  no” vote were he in the Senate.

But Conway, the state’s attorney general, has yet to take a position.Conway’s campaign said it was waiting until the process is complete and indicated he could weigh in after Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee vote.

“Jack Conway believes the confirmation process for Supreme Court justices is important and will therefore reserve judgment on Elena Kagan until after that process is complete,” Conway spokeswoman Allison Haley said.

In Illinois, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias is a Kagan supporter and started hitting his Republican opponent on Kagan the day she was nominated by the president. Giannoulias has repeatedly called out Kirk for not taking a position.

Kirk opposed the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, but has so far offered no definitive answer on Kagan.

The Kirk campaign did not respond to questions from The Hill about whether he supported or opposed Kagan.

Fiorina’s campaign says she is undecided on the nomination. The campaign referred The Hill to Fiorina’s original statement on Kagan’s nomination in May, which a campaign spokesman said still reflects her position.

At the time, Fiorina said she found parts of Kagan’s record “troubling,” but that she would reserve judgment as to whether she would support Kagan’s nomination “until the public vetting and confirmation process has been completed.”

Fiorina’s opponent, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), is a Kagan backer.

The most politically complicated Kagan calculation is probably the one being made by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate as an Independent.

In May, Crist told The Miami Herald that he was inclined to support Kagan. He said he didn’t see anything to suggest she was anti-Second Amendment, which was his stated reason last year for opposing the Sotomayor nomination.

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But last week, the National Rifle Association announced its opposition to Kagan, and the NRA’s Marion Hammer told The Tampa Tribune that if Crist stands in support of Kagan, it could cost him the NRA’s backing.

The Crist campaign did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Republican Marco Rubio opposes Kagan’s nomination, while Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) and Jeff Greene (D) are supporting her.

One Republican strategist connected to several Senate campaigns this cycle said he expects more candidates to make their positions clear later this week or early next, after the Judiciary Committee sends Kagan’s nomination to the full Senate.

In Pennsylvania, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) has yet to offer a final position on Kagan’s nomination, but a campaign spokesman said that will likely happen within the next week. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) is a Kagan supporter.

Pollster John Zogby said there’s been little reason for candidates to state their opinion on Kagan so far.

“Her nomination hasn’t been much of a lightning rod so far,” Zogby said. “It doesn’t even look like the GOP will really go to the mat on this one.”

When it comes to swing voters in 2010, Zogby expects the Kagan nomination fight to be far from their minds come the fall.

Where it could have a political impact is on what Zogby terms “high-intensity” voters.

He said he expects both parties to at least try to mobilize some base voters in the fall along opposition or support for Kagan.