Trump court battle imperils Senate Dems, House GOP

The debate over the Supreme Court is raising the issue of abortion and reproductive rights to a level of prominence that hasn’t been seen in years, creating an unpredictable and dangerous environment for incumbents in the midterm elections.

Democrats say the prospect that the Senate will confirm a nominee who could overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion will bring an army of Democrats to the polls — to the detriment of Republicans, particularly in the House.


“Our biggest ally here is their own rhetoric because they’re not trying to finesse this in anyway. They’re clear about their agenda,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.

“There’s no question it mobilizes more our side,” Lake added. “There are a lot more millennial women than born-again Christians who need to be mobilized.”

Republicans are just as confident that the issue will mobilize their own grass roots, which backed President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE in 2016 partly because of his promises on Supreme Court nominees.

“If you look at the way Trump won in 2016, a big part of that was energizing the evangelical base that didn’t turn out in 2008 and 2012,” said a Senate Republican pollster.

“The groups that turn out at the lowest numbers are noncollege educated white males and evangelicals. A Supreme Court nomination fight is like injecting fuel into the enthusiasm level of that base,” the pollster said.

It’s possible that both sides could be right, with the battle helping Republicans keep their Senate majority but potentially hurting them in the fight over the House.

“It’s possible but it cuts both ways,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report.

While House members won’t vote on Trump’s nominee, the battle could drive up Democratic turnout in districts won by Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMissing piece to the Ukraine puzzle: State Department's overture to Rudy Giuliani On The Money: Trump downplays urgency of China trade talks | Chinese negotiators cut US trip short in new setback | Trump sanctions Iran's national bank | Survey finds Pennsylvania, Wisconsin lost the most factory jobs in past year Meghan McCain, Ana Navarro get heated over whistleblower debate MORE in 2016, she said.

While 10 Senate Democrats are up for reelection in states won by Trump, a number of House Republicans are vulnerable in blue-state districts that Clinton won.

The Cook Political Report identifies four Republican toss-up seats in California, one in Colorado, two in Illinois, two in Minnesota, one in New Jersey and two in New York.

Pollsters like Lake see the potential for the abortion fight to boost Democratic candidates among female voters in suburban House districts — which could help flip control of the lower chamber.

In the Senate, Republicans think a big battle over the court and abortion could cost Democrats seats they are defending this fall in Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota and Missouri, and possibly Montana.

The Democrats put most at risk in an abortion fight are Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures O'Rourke: Many Democrats 'complicit' in gun problem MORE (W.Va.), whose home states are the least supportive of abortion rights of the Senate battlegrounds.

In West Virginia, which Trump carried by 42 points, only 35 percent of adults said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll.

In Indiana, 43 percent said it should be legal, while 51 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE (R-Ky.) wants to have Trump’s pick, which is slated to be announced on Monday, confirmed before the midterms.

Duffy said that the Republican base in pro-Trump states could really “wake up” if Senate Democrats seek to slow down or stop that process.

At the same time, if a conservative nominee wins confirmation, that could “fire up the Democratic base,” she added.

Pollsters say picking a fight with Democrats over abortion could help Trump and the GOP shore up its support from evangelical voters, which saw some erosion in recent weeks because of the administration’s controversial border policies, which have resulted in thousands of immigrant children becoming separated from their families.

At the same time, abortion rights could play out in different ways depending on the state.

In Montana, more than 50 percent of voters favor abortion rights, which could help Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocratic senators quietly hope Biden wins over rivals GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson to resign at end of year Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE, the Democratic incumbent there.

Lake, the Democratic pollster, said privacy-related issues such as abortion rights could even help swing independent male voters to Democratic candidates in Montana and other Western states, such as Nevada and Arizona. Republicans are defending seats in those states.

A Gravis Marketing poll of registered voters in Nevada last month found that 54 percent would oppose a ban on the ability to obtain an abortion.

The Pew poll found that 49 percent of voters in Arizona said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Abortion rights will get a lot of attention in West Virginia this fall because voters will also consider a state constitutional amendment declaring that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

In Indiana, political expert and journalist Brian Howey predicted the issue will weigh heavily on Donnelly’s reelection.

“This really complicates everything for Joe Donnelly,” Howey said.

He noted that Vice President Pence, who previously served as governor of Indiana, has been involved in vetting potential Supreme Court nominees. 

Trump met with Donnelly last month to lobby him to support his pick.