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 TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed 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 ClintonMore than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls Trump is threatening to boycott the debates — here's how to make sure he shows up Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor 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 DonnellyGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle Watchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation 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 McConnellSherrod Brown backs new North American trade deal: 'This will be the first trade agreement I've ever voted for' McConnell: Bevin pardons 'completely inappropriate' House panel to hold hearing, vote on Trump's new NAFTA proposal 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) TesterTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate 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.