Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate

Pence seeks to lift GOP in battle for Senate
© Getty Images

Vice President Pence is focusing his campaign travel this week on states where vulnerable Republican senators are up for reelection, seeking to bolster their prospects by highlighting their role in the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettMcConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS Progressives give Biden's court reform panel mixed reviews Top GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat MORE.

The vice president this week is campaigning with three GOP senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMSNBC's Joy Reid pans Manchin, Sinema as the 'no progress caucus' Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (S.C.), who chairs the committee, and Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings GOP senator recovering from surgery for prostate cancer Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured MORE (N.C.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstTrump faces test of power with early endorsements GOP looks to squeeze Biden, Democrats on border Blackburn introduces bill to require migrant DNA testing at border MORE (Iowa).

The stops overlap with key presidential battlegrounds, but aides view it as an opportunity to boost senators who were pulled off the campaign trail for stretches of October as they held hearings in Washington, D.C., to push through Barrett's confirmation.


“After making such a sacrifice, Vice President Pence wanted to ensure voters in their states knew how much their respective senators contributed to not only [Barrett's] confirmation, but also the administration's many policy accomplishments,” a senior Pence aide said.

When Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgProgressives give Biden's court reform panel mixed reviews Biden will let Breyer decide when to retire, aide says Biden establishes commission to study expanding Supreme Court MORE died late last month, Republicans viewed the opening of a Supreme Court seat so close to Election Day as a motivating factor for staunch conservatives and base supporters who prioritize judicial appointments.

Experts and strategists have noted that the push to replace Ginsburg has likely been just as motivating for Democrats, who have sounded alarms about Barrett’s potential impact on the Affordable Care Act and who have been incensed by the rush to fill Ginsburg's seat. But they acknowledged the possibility that the Supreme Court fight could make a difference in razor-thin down-ballot races.

“I would say generally speaking that overall the Barrett confirmation has done as much for Democrats as it has done for Republicans,” said David Holian, a political science professor at University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

Holian doubted that Barrett’s confirmation would significantly sway the presidential election or tip a race where one candidate has a lead of 5 percentage points or more in the polls. But in a closer race, such as the Senate contests in North Carolina and Iowa, it could make a difference, he said.


The issue of the judiciary has been further elevated in Senate races given the debate among Democrats over whether to expand the Supreme Court should they take control of the chamber.

President TrumpDonald TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest MORE typically mentions Barrett's confirmation during his campaign rallies, but his remarks are usually less focused than Pence, who delivers a similar stump speech at each of his stops. Those speeches this week have paid particular attention to candidates who played a role in getting Barrett’s confirmation across the finish line.

Pence has also played up Barrett’s faith in his remarks in an appeal to evangelical voters. While Democrats largely avoided Barrett's religion in her hearings this month, Pence has still turned Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCaitlyn Jenner exploring bid for California governor: report WokeWorld comes for 'oppressor' Obama: Activists rip school being named after 'deporter in chief' Senators press for answers in Space Command move decision MORE's (D-Calif.) comments to Barrett in 2017 — when she said “the dogma lives loudly within you,” a remark that was widely seen as anti-Catholic — into one of his more effective applause lines on the trail by declaring “that dogma lives loudly in me.”

The vice president held two rallies in North Carolina on Tuesday, one in Greensboro and one in Wilmington, and he was joined both times by Tillis. The senator is seeking reelection in a race against Democrat Cal Cunningham, whose campaign has been racked by an admission that he had an extramarital affair.

Tillis, a member of the Judiciary Committee, faced his own setback when he tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a White House event to celebrate Barrett’s nomination. Pence spoke warmly of Tillis on Tuesday, highlighting how they rode together on Air Force Two.

“Having President Trump and Vice President Pence in North Carolina on the heels of a historic Supreme Court confirmation that Sen. Tillis was instrumental in is certainly a boost to our campaign,” said Andrew Romeo, communications director for the Tillis campaign.

“North Carolinians want a senator who will continue to confirm well-qualified judges that don't legislate from the bench and will reject Cal Cunningham and his radical agenda to pack the Supreme Court with liberal activist judges,” he added.

Pence also stopped Tuesday in South Carolina, where Graham is running in a closer than expected race against Jaime Harrison, who has captured the national spotlight with staggering fundraising hauls.

Graham’s allies have been hopeful that his prominent role in Barrett's confirmation proceedings would be a boon to his own fundraising and stabilize his standing before Election Day, and Pence made the senator's role on the Judiciary Committee a key theme of his remarks in Greenville.

The vice president praised Graham's efforts to confirm Justice Neil GorsuchNeil GorsuchTop GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat Trump-era grievances could get second life at Supreme Court Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle MORE and Barrett, but he paid particular attention to the senator's memorable role in the contentious hearings for Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughNY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' Colbert mocks Gaetz after Trump denies he asked for a pardon Meghan McCain calls on Gaetz to resign MORE, where Graham lashed out at Democrats in the middle of testimony about sexual misconduct allegations against the judge.

“You know, I just heard Lindsey say that his opponent’s saying he ran because of the way you handled the Brett Kavanuagh hearing, but I agree with Lindsey,” Pence said. “Lindsey Graham is going to win because of the way he handled the Kavanaugh hearing.”

Pence will be in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, where he's expected to appear alongside Ernst. The Iowa senator is another Judiciary Committee member who finds herself in a close race against Democrat Theresa Greenfield.

The vice president will travel to Arizona in the final days of the campaign to back Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R), who is not on the Judiciary Committee but who is among the most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection.

Pence’s travel is dependent on his remaining healthy after multiple close aides tested positive for the coronavirus in the past week. Pence is tested daily and he has continued to test negative, according to his office.