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 KavanaughTrump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag Trump throws support behind 'no brainer' measure to ban burning of American flag Disclosure forms offer glimpse into Supreme Court's finances 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 RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate 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 TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' 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 McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world 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 McCain#JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday #JohnMcCainDay trends on Trump's 73rd birthday New poll finds little GOP support for spending cuts to specific federal programs MORE (R-Ariz.) by one-tenth of a percentage point — but Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid 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 HeitkampLobbying World Pro-trade group targets Democratic leadership in push for new NAFTA On The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight MORE (N.D.). The RCP average gives an almost 9-point edge to her opponent, Rep. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump pushes Mexico for 'significantly more' as tariffs loom The Hill's Morning Report — Trump pushes Mexico for 'significantly more' as tariffs loom Overnight Health Care: Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret | Dems demand answers from company that shelters migrant kids | Measles cases top 1,000 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 McSallyDemocratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  MORE (R) in the battle to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeDemocrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE. In Nevada, incumbent Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (R) is locked in a tight race with Rep. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenFemale senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Female senators hatch plan to 'shame' Senate into voting faster Lawmakers introduce legislation to improve cyber workforce funding 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 NelsonHow Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA Republicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment 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.