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Trump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight

Trump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight
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The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Democratic senator votes against advancing Amy Coney Barrett nomination while wearing RBG mask GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation MORE has jolted the Trump campaign, offering the president a new message to seize on in the final weeks of his reelection pursuit.

For months, the focus of the 2020 campaign has been on the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 200,000 people in the U.S., and the resulting recession that has put millions out of work. But Trump allies see the new Supreme Court vacancy as a way to rally conservatives who may have been wavering and give Trump a new issue to hammer home in the closing weeks.

Trump basked in the opportunity to appoint a third Supreme Court justice with supporters at a rally over the weekend in the swing state of North Carolina, musing about printing T-shirts that read “Fill that seat” and polling the crowd on whether to pick a man or a woman.

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Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican strategist, argued that the nomination process could help win over Republicans who might not otherwise favor his reelection.

“Republicans may agree or disagree about candidates, the one thing they seem to walk in lock step about is the judiciary,” O’Connell said.

At the same time, strategists acknowledge that the death of Ginsburg, a liberal icon, and the brewing fight over the nominee to replace her is likely to further energize the left, raising the stakes of what already promised to be a tense final stretch of the campaign. Some of the president’s allies also conceded that the impact of the court fight might be limited because the judicial issue will not overtake the economy or coronavirus as top issues in the election.

“Supreme Court fights tend to be pretty large in Washington. They tend not to be as huge with the public,” said one former White House official. “There is a constituency on both sides of the aisle that are very motivated by this, and this is a very uniting issue on the right for the president.”

Trump said Monday he expects to announce his nominee on Friday or Saturday, following Ginsburg’s funeral services. That timing would allow Trump to name his pick just days before the first presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFox News president, top anchors advised to quarantine after coronavirus exposure: report Six notable moments from Trump and Biden's '60 Minutes' interviews Biden on attacks on mental fitness: Trump thought '9/11 attack was 7/11 attack' MORE on Sept. 29. The president made clear he prefers that the Senate vote on his nominee before Election Day, setting up a furious schedule over the coming weeks that already includes a brewing battle over government funding to avert a shutdown on Oct. 1.

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Trump consolidated support among evangelicals and social conservatives four years ago in large part because he issued a list of people he would nominate to the Supreme Court should he win the election. Exit polls showed voters whose top issue was the Supreme Court overwhelmingly voted for Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris lists out 'racist' actions by Trump in '60 minutes' interview: 'It all speaks for itself' Trump has list of top intelligence officials he'll fire if he wins reelection: report Clinton says most Republicans want to see Trump gone but can't say it publicly: report MORE.

The president has frequently touted his torrid pace of appointing more than 200 conservative judges to the federal bench, including two Supreme Court picks. He turned to the judiciary again earlier this month in hopes of boosting his poll numbers, releasing an expanded list of would-be Supreme Court nominees in a nod to his 2016 strategy.

But the list quickly faded out of the news cycle as the coronavirus pandemic dominated headlines and Trump shifted the focus toward the return of college football and protests in a few major U.S. cities. Ginsburg’s death Friday from pancreatic cancer, however, gave the issue of the courts fresh urgency.

“I do think it’s going to be incredibly galvanizing. People have known there’s a theoretical vacancy coming for a while, but having it staring you straight in the face really changes things,” said Carrie Severino, president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.

Among the contenders for the nomination is Barbara Lagoa, a Trump nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Lagoa is a Cuban American and native of Florida, a key battleground state where polls show a close race between Trump and Biden. Trump’s allies believe that Lagoa, if nominated, could help the president among Hispanic voters in the Sunshine State, which is viewed as critical for his reelection.

Trump is also considering Amy Coney Barrett, whom he nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and who interviewed for the seat that ultimately went to Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday Collins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' MORE in 2018, and Allison Jones Rushing, his nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Both women are favored by white evangelicals, who represent a key element of the president’s base. Barrett is considered a top contender.

“With evangelical voters, particularly in the Upper Midwest, that is entirely important in terms of maximizing our turnout there,” O’Connell said.

Republicans have also used the Supreme Court opening to highlight that Biden has not released his own list of potential nominees, arguing Trump has been more transparent. The former vice president said over the weekend that he did not want such a list to influence a judge’s rulings or subject them to political attacks.

Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy in their desire to move forward with Trump’s forthcoming nomination despite refusing to hold a vote on former President Obama’s nominee Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination GOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session MORE in 2016. At least two Republican senators — Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Trump autographs pumpkin at Maine campaign event: 'It'll be on eBay tonight' Trump makes rare campaign stops in New England in closing stretch MORE, who faces a tough reelection campaign in Maine, and Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Murkowski says she will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court on Monday MORE of Alaska — have opposed voting on a nominee prior to the election.

Biden argued Sunday that the vacancy should be filled after the November election and by whomever the voters pick as their next president. He warned that “health care hangs in the balance,” referring to the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn ObamaCare during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Biden used a trip to Wisconsin to criticize Trump’s coronavirus response, a sign the former vice president hopes to keep the administration’s missteps on the pandemic front and center.

Trump’s eventual Supreme Court pick could have electoral implications for Republicans beyond the presidential race, particularly the narrow GOP majority in the Senate.

A vote on Trump’s nominee before Election Day would force vulnerable incumbents like GOP Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisBiden and Trump neck and neck in three Southern states: poll 10 under-the-radar races to watch in November Pence adviser Marty Obst tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (N.C.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans MORE (Colo.), Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesDemocrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll Poll shows statistical tie in Montana Senate race Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (Mont.) and Collins to take a position as voters prepare to cast their ballots.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who was communications director for former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Harry Reid: Biden should give GOP three weeks to see if they will work with him Democrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination MORE (D-Nev.), said he hopes the battle over the Supreme Court vacancy will further energize the liberal base.

Manley doubted that the recent turn of events would do more to further excite Trump’s base given the president’s continued focus on revving up his core supporters. The primary question, Manley said, will be the impact of the high court fight on Democratic turnout.

“The reality is that Republicans have always taken judicial nominations much more seriously than Democrats,” he said. “My hope, however, is once folks look at exactly what is at stake including health care and the right to choose, Democrats will come out in droves to try and defeat the president.”