Dems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows

Dems see blue 'tsunami' in House as Senate path narrows
© Pool

Democrats have a better shot than ever at winning back the House majority with 30 days to go before the midterm elections, but have seen their chances of taking back the Senate erode amid the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The Kavanaugh saga has dominated politics for a fortnight, energizing partisans on both sides of the aisle. While no one can be certain how the next four weeks will play out, the fight seems likely to hurt Republicans further with the suburban female voters seen as pivotal in many toss-up House districts.

ADVERTISEMENT

But there are signs that the fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination has helped Republicans close a wide enthusiasm gap with Democrats, who have so far held the edge in momentum.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the GOP’s House campaign arm, saw a 279-percent spike in donations in the first week of October compared to the same period in September. The group did not provide a dollar figure for the haul.

And a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released on Wednesday showed Democrats leading Republicans in voter enthusiasm by only 2 points, down from 10 points in July.

“The Republican Party does three things: cut taxes, kill terrorists and confirm judges,” Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the NRCC, said.

“When we do that, we fire up our base and appeal to independents. We’re about to face voters having done all three.”

That rising enthusiasm is a concern for Democrats. As early as a few weeks ago they had seen a narrow path to retake the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority, but those prospects appear to be dwindling.

Voters angered over the treatment of Kavanaugh appear to be moving toward the GOP's Senate candidates in deeply red states where President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE is more popular, including North Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.

Kavanaugh was confirmed to Supreme Court on Saturday, ending days of acrimony in the Senate after three women came forward to accuse the judge of sexual misconduct, though he has strongly denied the accusations.

The vote marks a key victory for Republicans, whose base rallied around Kavanaugh, believing the judge was the victim of a partisan smear campaign.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOval Office clash ups chances of shutdown On The Money: Trump, Dems battle over border wall before cameras | Clash ups odds of shutdown | Senators stunned by Trump's shutdown threat | Pelosi calls wall 'a manhood thing' for Trump Mellman: Enemies of democracy MORE (R-Ky.) on Saturday hailed the confirmation of Kavanaugh as a major boost to Senate Republican candidates in the midterms.

For Republicans, the biggest boost will be in a series of competitive Senate races, as Democrats must defend 10 seats in states Trump won in 2016, mainly in North Dakota, Indiana and West Virginia.  

In North Dakota, two recent polls showed Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches House passes bipartisan bill aimed at reversing rising maternal mortality rates Schumer walking tightrope with committee assignments MORE (D) trailing her GOP challenger, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerDem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches North Dakota New Members 2019 Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues MORE (N.D.), by 10- and 12-point margins.

And despite polling showing strong support for Kavanaugh in a state that Trump won by nearly 36 points, Heitkamp voted against confirming Kavanaugh, saying the Senate testimony of one of Kavanaugh's accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, had been a key factor in her decision.

In Indiana, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDem senators Heitkamp, Donnelly urge bipartisanship in farewell speeches Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive Schumer walking tightrope with committee assignments MORE, another vulnerable Democrat in a red state, also opposed the judge in the final confirmation vote in a state where polling has shown a tight race.

A recent Fox News poll showed Donnelly leading his Republican challenger Mike Braun by only 2 points — well within the survey's margin of error.

But another vulnerable red-state Democrat, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy — Sponsored by the National Biodiesel Board — Trump moves to ease Obama water rule | EPA document contradicts agency over water rule data| Manchin to be top Dem on Senate Energy panel Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee Schumer to Trump: Future infrastructure bill must combat climate change MORE (W.Va.), broke party ranks when he voted to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, mitigating the risk of GOP attacks in the final stretch of his reelection campaign against West Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

A GOP strategist told The Hill that private polling shows that the Kavanaugh nomination ranks as a top issue, alongside jobs and the economy, in West Virginia as well as in North Dakota.

Meanwhile Democrats are seeing deep-red states where they had hoped for a narrow path now slip away.

In Texas, momentum appeared to be shifting toward Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDems attracted to O'Rourke because he demonstrates civility, says political analyst Gillum to speak at gathering of top Dem donors: report O'Rourke edges out Biden in MoveOn straw poll MORE (R), who said he raised $12 million in the third fundraising quarter of the year. And a recent Quinnipiac poll showed the senator with a 9-point lead over opponent Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D).

In Tennessee, a Fox News poll showed Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnCorker: Saudi Crown Prince is ‘out of control’ Corker: Trump governs by using ‘anger’ and ‘hate’ Tennessee New Members 2019 MORE (R) leading former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) by 5 points.

Bredesen also faced more bad news after a major Democratic super PAC said it would not spend resources to boost his campaign after he said he supports Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Meanwhile, Republican ads seizing on the Supreme Court fight began hitting airwaves in Missouri and Montana — two red states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents — last week before the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh.

In Montana, an ad from Republican Matt Rosendale hit Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate confirms Trump's pick to be deputy Treasury secretary O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive MORE (D) and Senate Democrats over their handling of allegations against Kavanaugh.

And in Missouri, Republican Josh Hawley accused Senate Democrats and his opponent, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMissouri GOP Secretary of State launches investigation into Hawley’s time as AG The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown Schumer gets ready to go on the offensive MORE (D), of creating a “circus” around the nomination in an ad of his own.

The big unknown, however, is whether the surge in Republican enthusiasm will continue to reverberate through Election Day now the the fight for Kavanaugh's nomination is over.

"If Kavanaugh is confirmed, perhaps Republicans will feel less of a need to turn out," Michael Cornfield, the co-director of the George Washington University Poll, told Hill.TV Friday ahead of the confirmation vote.

“If he's turned down, [Republicans] may surpass Democrats intensity,” he added.

But the picture is different for the House, where strategists warn Kavanaugh’s confirmation will likely fuel Democratic turnout in the midterms.

The nomination fight sparked major protests that erupted in the Senate, and hundreds of demonstrators — many of whom were women — were arrested days before the final vote.

Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to ram through Kavanaugh’s confirmation, ignoring credible allegations of sexual misconduct and the nominee’s fiery testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Democrats have a much more favorable map as they look to flip the 23 seats they need to regain control of the House, with many of the key battleground races being fought in suburban districts where Republicans have shown signs of struggling to win over women.

Public polls show a widening gender gap, with women tending to favor Democrats over Republicans, and outrage over Kavanaugh’s nomination could drive the wedge even deeper.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently rates 31 House races as "toss-ups," while 12 are seen as "leaning Democratic," after recently shifting a slew of races in favor of Democrats, including the seats held by Reps. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderGOP lawmakers call for autopsy on 'historic losses' New House GOP campaign chairman lays out challenges for 2020 Dems play ‘Let’s make a deal’ with Nancy Pelosi MORE (R-Kan.), Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? GOP lawmakers call for autopsy on 'historic losses' Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax MORE (R-Fla.), and Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveJuan Williams: Nowhere to go for black Republicans WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 Ousted Rep. Mia Love knocks Trump, GOP for making women and minorities feel unwelcome MORE (R-Utah).

The winds favoring Democrats are seen in other ways.

Sixty Democratic House hopefuls topped the $1 million mark in fundraising between July and September, while 30 passed the $2 million mark and eight raked in more than $3 million, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said Thursday.

And the DCCC itself has also seen a surge in fundraising. The group announced Friday that small-dollar donations increased 467 percent in the last week of September compared to the prior week, the committee said Friday. The total amount raised that week was up 277 percent to $4.38 million.

Democratic House hopefuls have sought in recent weeks to capitalize on Kavanaugh's nomination.

In New Jersey’s 7th District, for example, Democrat Tom Malinowski hit Rep. Leonard LanceLeonard LanceIncoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (R) in an ad for dismissing the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.

And in Georgia’s 6th District, Democrat Lucy McBath criticized her Republican opponent, Rep. Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelNew House GOP campaign chairman lays out challenges for 2020 Dems face tough road ahead in Deep South Dem pollster says women candidates are better at connecting with voters on personal level MORE (R-Ga.), for her previous praise of Kavanaugh, telling The Associated Press in an interview last month that Handel “has stood by Brett Kavanaugh and refused to speak out on any of these accusations.”

Jon Reinish, a New York-based Democratic strategist, said that Kavanaugh's confirmation had angered Democrats and predicted they would turn out in force, while Republicans would be less motivated.

"The Republican base will see that they got what they wanted," he said. "I don't think that people turn out to say thank you."

Reinish said that the confirmation would fuel much more than a Democratic "blue wave" in November. He predicted instead a "tsunami."

"If the Republicans thought they had a problem before, they have an earthquake now, because you cannot understate the rage and you cannot understate the emotion and you cannot understate the mobilization of Democrats after this," he said.

— Lisa Hagen contributed