Vulnerable GOP incumbents embrace filling Supreme Court seat this year

Several vulnerable Republican senators facing tough election battles in November are quickly coming out in support of filling the Supreme Court vacancy this year left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Ginsburg’s death injects a fresh round of chaos into what was already a historic year in which both control of the Senate and the White House are up for grabs, with Republicans playing defense in several key battleground states with less than 50 days until the November election. 

Four Republican senators thus far in key races have come out in support of filling the seat, aligning themselves closely with President Trump on an issue that will electrify the GOP base. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is fighting for a fourth term, became the latest Republican senator on the ballot in November to signal support for filling the Supreme Court seat this year. 

Graham pointed to recent statements he’s made saying that he would back the filling of a vacancy in 2020 before the election.

“After Kavanaugh, the rules have changed as far as I’m concerned,” Graham said in an August article he highlighted, apparently referencing the acrimony over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation in 2018. 

He also retweeted Trump’s call for Republicans to move quickly, adding, “I fully understand where President @realDonaldTrump is coming from.” 

Graham faces an increasingly formidable opponent in the race for South Carolina’s Senate seat in Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted this month showed the two tied at 48 percent. Just a day after the race, Harrison reported raising $1 million in 24 hours after the poll results were announced. 

The Democratic Senate campaign fundraising arm has also thrown a large sum of money behind Harrison’s bid. 

However, Graham is still favored to win his race in November. 

Graham’s support for moving a nominee this year is significant because of his role atop the Judiciary Committee, where he’ll be responsible for deciding if the nominee gets a hearing and shepherding the nomination to the Senate floor. 

In addition to Graham, Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) have each endorsed moving to fill the vacancy this year. 

Tillis, like Graham, is a member of the Judiciary Committee, meaning he’ll have an early vote in the confirmation process and will question whomever Trump nominates during the high-profile hearings. 

Tillis immediately sought to paint his race against Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham as a referendum on the Supreme Court, an issue that Republicans believe animates their supporters and could help drive voter turnout at the polls in November. 

“President Trump is again facing voters at the ballot box and North Carolinians will ultimately render their judgment on his presidency and how he chooses to fill the vacancy,” Tillis said. 

“There is a clear choice on the future of the Supreme Court between the well-qualified and conservative jurist President Trump will nominate and I will support, and the liberal activist Joe Biden will nominate and Cal Cunningham will support, who will legislate radical, left-wing policies from the bench,” he added. 

Neither Loeffler nor McSally is on the Judiciary Committee, but they were both appointed to their seats and are fighting to win election to the Senate for the first time. McSally previously ran in 2018 but lost. 

Loeffler became the first GOP senator to explicitly call for the seat to be filled this year. She doubled down on Saturday and pointed to the looming fight over the Supreme Court as symbolic of the decision facing voters in November. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “has said that we will have a vote on the Senate floor on this, and I completely support that,” Loeffler said during an interview with Fox News. 

She added that the Supreme Court battle “is just as big as” the economy or the coronavirus because it highlights differences between the parties.  

“That’s why it’s vitally important that we keep the Senate and re-elect President Trump,” she added.  

Loeffler and McSally face different political challenges.

Loeffler is trying to fight off a challenge from fellow a Republican, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.). The Cook Political Report rates the Georgia special election as leaning toward Republicans. 

Meanwhile, McSally is trying to defeat Democratic nominee Mark Kelly in a race that political handicappers believe leans Democrat. 

The support by Tillis and McSally to fill the seat comes as recent polls have shown that voters in their states trust Democratic nominee Joe Biden more than Trump to fill the seat. 

Voters in Arizona, according to a poll from The New York Times and Siena College, say they trust Biden over Trump 53 percent to 43 percent to “do a better job” at picking a Supreme Court justice.  

Tillis faces a voter base where Biden’s advantage on choosing a Supreme Court justice is narrower, but he still leads Trump 47 percent to 44 percent in North Carolina, according to the poll. 

Even as the four GOP senators raced to support filling the seat, many of their GOP colleagues in their own tough reelection bids have sidestepped the issue. 

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) both released statements remembering Ginsburg but did not address if the Senate should vote to fill her seat this year. 

Collins and Gardner are the only two Republican senators running for reelection in states won by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, the party’s Democratic Senate nominee, is calling for a nominee to replace Ginsburg to be delayed until next year. 

“The Senate must not confirm a new Supreme Court Justice until after a new President is sworn in next year. Senator Gardner must uphold the commitment he set more than four years ago and allow the President elected in November to make this decision,” he said in a tweet

Though Gardner is viewed as more vulnerable than Collins, she has drawn more scrutiny over her votes on judicial nominees, including the 2018 fight over then-nominee Kavanaugh. 

The Times-Siena poll found that 38 percent of Maine voters approve of Collins’s vote, compared with 55 percent who disapprove. 

Fifty-nine percent of voters in Maine also said they trust Biden to pick a justice, compared with 37 percent who support Trump. 

Though Collins did not address the issue during her statement on Friday night, she indicated to The New York Times earlier this month that she could not support confirming a nominee before the election. 

“I think that’s too close, I really do,” she said

Updated 3:21 p.m. 

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Cory Gardner Donald Trump Doug Collins Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Hickenlooper Kelly Loeffler Lindsey Graham Martha McSally Mitch McConnell Ruth Bader Ginsburg Susan Collins Thom Tillis
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