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 KavanaughProgressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy Senate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Trump reacts to Ginsburg's death: 'An amazing woman who led an amazing life' 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 RyanKenosha will be a good bellwether in 2020 At indoor rally, Pence says election runs through Wisconsin Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates 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 TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy 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 McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties 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 McCainMcSally says current Senate should vote on Trump nominee Say what you will about the presidential candidates, as long as it isn't 'They're too old' The electoral reality that the media ignores MORE (R-Ariz.) by one-tenth of a percentage point — but Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Trump carries on with rally, unaware of Ginsburg's death 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 HeitkampCentrists, progressives rally around Harris pick for VP 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama MORE (N.D.). The RCP average gives an almost 9-point edge to her opponent, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerOn Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package Army Corps urges DOJ to settle case with ND over M DAPL damages 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 McSallySenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg Democratic senator calls for eliminating filibuster, expanding Supreme Court if GOP fills vacancy What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies MORE (R) in the battle to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRepublican former Michigan governor says he's voting for Biden Maybe they just don't like cowboys: The president is successful, some just don't like his style Bush endorsing Biden? Don't hold your breath MORE. In Nevada, incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play MORE (R) is locked in a tight race with Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenHillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections Google, Apple, eBay to meet virtually with lawmakers for tech group's annual fly-in Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic 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 NelsonDemocrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson 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.