Republicans, convinced all those anti-Brett M. Kavanaugh protesters were a paid mob, have been unable to fathom that his confirmation fight might not have been so good for them after all. (And in truth, if Republicans “come home” to some senators in deep-red states, we won’t know whether that would have happened in the natural course of events). While political pundits and party activists rightly focus intently on the Kavanaugh hearings, the result may be sort of a wash.
Charlie Cook writes, “It’s a decent bet that what happened inside the room helped Democrats in a lot of places, particularly in urban and suburban areas, further enraging liberals and many women. It may help Democratic chances in the House. But what happened outside the room may have equally stiffened and powered an outrage that may well help Republicans, particularly those taking on incumbent Democrats in ruby-red areas—notably those five states where Republicans are seeking to unseat Democrats in states that President Trump won by 19 points or more.”
I would add one caveat: Long before Kavanaugh became an issue, Republicans lost opportunities for pickups in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio — states where Trump won or nearly won in 2016. The GOP simply is not competitive in those races, and part of the reason is that there aren’t enough die-hard Republicans to make up for the independents and Democrats they’ve turned out. If the result is that Republicans are back to their pre-2016 electoral map, Democrats are the winners.
And in the Senate there is still a good chance that several red-state Democrats (e.g., Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Joe Donnelly in Indiana) will hold on and that Democrats can pick up a seat in red Arizona. It’s a measure of how the political landscape has changed that Republicans now celebrate the possibility they won’t lose Texas or Tennessee. (Meanwhile in purple Nevada, which Trump lost, Republican Sen. Dean Heller is slightly behind Rep. Jacky Rosen. If Kavanaugh was such a win for Republicans, you’d expect to see Heller soar into the lead.) A return to a map where Republicans survive only in deep-red enclaves is consistent with a president who plays solely to his base and delights in offending everyone else.
As for the House, as Cook points out, Democrats still have the momentum. Little has changed in the past six months. The Washington Post/Schar School poll of the most competitive 69 seats (overwhelmingly held by Republicans) showed Democrats up four points. The latest CNN generic-ballot poll has Democrats up 13 points, “the widest margin of support for Democrats in a midterm cycle since 2006, when at this point, the party held a whopping 21-point lead over Republicans among likely voters.” And at least in this poll, Kavanaugh did not narrow the enthusiasm gap. (“This year, Democrats’ enthusiasm about their congressional vote has increased and 62% now say they’re extremely or very enthusiastic to vote, up seven points since September among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Among Republicans and Republican leaning independents, enthusiasm has remained relatively steady, going from 50% in September to 52% in the most recent poll.”)
Given the women’s vote, it’s very likely that Republicans’ performance during the Kavanaugh confirmation made their gender problem worse. CNN reports:
Women’s support for Democratic candidates remains extremely strong; 63% of women say they’ll vote for the Democrat and only a third say they’ll vote for the Republican. Men are more closely divided, but tilt in the opposite direction, with half backing the Republican and 45% behind the Democrat. If women were to vote as the likely voter number suggests, it would be Democrats strongest performance in the House race in the history of modern exit polling (back to 1976). The previous record for women voting Democratic was in 1982, when Democrats got the nod of 58% of women voters.
If you look at individual races, Democrats have plenty to cheer about. If Republicans can hold on in a swing suburban district, you’d think incumbents such as GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th District would be doing just fine. She’s a workhorse and a pro at constituent services — and even voted against repeal of Obamacare. She is trailing by 12 points in the Post/Schar School’s latest poll. (“The survey finds voters say the president is the most important factor influencing likely voters’ choice for Congress, more so even than the strong economy which would boost the party in power in a typical election year.”) Comstock is losing among independents 60 percent to 36 percent. In 2016, she won reelection by about six points while Trump lost the district by 10 points. Now, she cannot disentangle herself from the president.
Many who follow politics 24/7 think each event has enormous consequences, especially if we are near an election. Separating Kavanaugh from overall trends will be tough, but so far it looks as though Trump has poisoned the well for House Republicans, helped stabilize the deepest-red states but not done anything much for purple states (such as Florida and Nevada). Democrats would be happy to return to a pre-2016 map — with an energized base and new strength from women.