The Memo: Sprint to midterms is on, as Kavanaugh furor reverberates

The Memo: Sprint to midterms is on, as Kavanaugh furor reverberates

The midterm elections are exactly four weeks away, and both parties are on tenterhooks about how the controversy over Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal Justices grapple with multibillion-dollar ObamaCare case Potential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment MORE might affect the outcome.

Democrats remain favorites to take back control of the House of Representatives, but they face an uphill battle in the Senate, where the map of contested seats favors the GOP.

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The question is whether the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite allegations of sexual assault against him, will spark higher turnout among Democratic-leaning women, and liberal voters generally.

Alternatively, the episode could energize conservatives, in part because they feel Democrats tried to railroad Kavanaugh.

On Monday, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE (R-Wis.) asserted that the Kavanaugh furor would redound to the GOP’s advantage.

“The Republican base is very much activated. I think the Democratic base was already there,” Ryan said after a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. “I’ve seen it traveling around the country in the last few days, traveling around Wisconsin. The Republican base is definitely animated after this.”

Kavanaugh was sworn in Monday evening in the East Room of the White House, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE in attendance.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation, in a tight 50-48 Senate vote, gives the high court a clear 5-4 conservative majority.

Democrats believe the controversy could sharpen female antipathy toward the GOP, especially among college-educated women in the suburbs. And there is data to support their notion that the gender gap has become a yawning chasm.

A CNN poll released on Monday showed that women disapproved of Kavanaugh’s confirmation by a 20-point margin  — 35 percent approved, 55 percent disapproved — and a small plurality of men approved (48 percent to 46 percent).

The other wild card is Trump himself.

He backed Kavanaugh emphatically, even mocking one of his accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, at a campaign rally in Mississippi last week. He later told Jeanine Pirro of Fox News that he had done so because “I thought I had to even the playing field.”

But in an NPR/PBS/Marist poll conducted Oct. 1 — before the Kavanaugh episode reached its peak intensity — Trump’s problem with some segments of the female electorate was plain.

White female college graduates disapproved of his job performance by a huge, 37-point margin, 30 percent to 67 percent.

Yet even while many Democrats predict that female anger will fuel a "blue wave" and tilt tight races across the nation in their direction, Republicans disagree.

In Missouri, for example, GOP strategist Gregg Keller asserted that the Kavanaugh matter was “really a turning point” in the Senate race between incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGinsburg health scare raises prospect of election year Supreme Court battle MSNBC's McCaskill: Trump used 'his fat thumbs' to try to intimidate Yovanovitch GOP senator rips into Pelosi at Trump rally: 'It must suck to be that dumb' MORE (D) and her Republican challenger, Josh Hawley, the state’s attorney general.

In that race, Keller said, “The question has always been: Are Trump voters going to turn out? The answer a couple of months ago was ‘no.’ The answer now is ‘yes’ because of Kavanaugh. I have been doing this for 20 years and I have never seen the conservative base as on-fire angry.”

McCaskill has been elected twice, in 2006 and 2012, despite the fact that Missouri has been trending more conservative. Former President Obama came within a whisker of carrying the state in 2008 — he lost it to GOP nominee Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (R-Ariz.) by one-tenth of a percentage point — but Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats seek leverage for trial Davis: Trump vs. Clinton impeachments – the major differences Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' MORE lost it by almost 19 points in 2016.

The Missouri race looks to be among the tightest Senate contests in the nation. The RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average gives Hawley a statistically insignificant lead of less than half a percentage point. Data and prediction site FiveThirtyEight gives McCaskill a 56 percent chance of keeping her seat.

The most endangered Democratic incumbent appears to be Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states MORE (N.D.). The RCP average gives an almost 9-point edge to her opponent, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules GOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution MORE (R), and FiveThirtyEight projects Cramer with more than a two-in-three chance of unseating her.

But it is a sunnier picture for Democrats in Arizona, where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) is a slight favorite to beat Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats spend big to put Senate in play Kelly leads McSally in Arizona Senate race: poll MORE (R) in the battle to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE. In Nevada, incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats spend big to put Senate in play This week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R) is locked in a tight race with Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenSenate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Hillicon Valley: Facebook to remove mentions of potential whistleblower's name | House Dems demand FCC action over leak of location data | Dem presses regulators to secure health care data Senators introduce bill to create 'parity' among broadband programs MORE (D).

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate.

The most expensive race will likely be in Florida, where Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonLobbying world Bottom Line Bottom Line MORE (D) is trying to hold off a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Nelson has a small edge in both the RCP average and in FiveThirtyEight’s projections.

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who was Obama’s 2008 state director in the Sunshine State, said that he was “cautiously optimistic” about Nelson’s chances.

“I feel things look good where they need to look good for us," he said. "I expect the race to be decided by less than 100,000 votes, which is about a point-and-a-half.”

Trump’s influence on the race will be “huge,” Schale added, suggesting that Democratic and liberal opposition to the president could be enough to bring Nelson over the finish line.

Independent observers see a similar pattern nationwide, including in the House, where Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the lower chamber.

“Trump is a major negative drag on the Republicans overall,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“If [Hillary] Clinton was in the White House, the Democrats would have no chance to win the House majority and they might be looking at double-digit losses in the Senate," he said. "The president sets the tone for the midterm, and the presidential party usually loses ground in the midterm.”

The scale of the danger for the GOP can be seen in the ratings of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which classifies 15 Republican-held House seats as either “likely Democratic” or “leaning Democratic” and a further 29 Republican House seats as toss-ups.

By contrast, Cook sees only two Democratic-held seats as toss-ups, along with a single Democratic seat it regards as likely to go Republican.

Trump, for his part, was predicting a red wave of support for Republicans as recently as August. He appears to have stopped using that phrase.

But the question remains just how forceful the blue wave will be — and how Kavanaugh's confirmation will either dissipate its force or add to it.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.