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 BarrettBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol Supreme Court's approval rating dips to 49 percent  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week MORE.

The vice president this week is campaigning with three GOP senators who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (S.C.), who chairs the committee, and Sens. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSeven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet MORE (N.C.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSeven-figure ad campaign urges GOP to support infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks Grassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 GinsburgBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol Supreme Court's approval rating dips to 49 percent  Anti-abortion movement eyes its holy grail 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election 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 FeinsteinNearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children 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 GorsuchNo reason to pack the court Democrats under new pressure to break voting rights stalemate Trump 'very disappointed' in Kavanaugh votes: 'Where would he be without me?' MORE and Barrett, but he paid particular attention to the senator's memorable role in the contentious hearings for Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughSarah Palin says she's praying about running for Senate against Murkowski Top House Democrats call on Biden administration to extend eviction moratorium On The Money: Biden asks Congress to extend eviction ban with days until expiration | Economic growth rose to 6.5 percent annual rate in second quarter 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 McSallySchumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up GOP group launches million ad campaign pressing Kelly on filibuster Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal 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.