In this edition: Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh; Cruz's tweet; blue tides in Iowa; Rick Scott stuck in the algae.

I'm plowing ahead with The Trailer.


The fight over Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh will absorb Washington this week, as it did last week. The city and the country are waiting to hear what the judge and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, say in a Thursday morning hearing, a moment that could lead to Kavanaugh's confirmation or to a failed nomination for the court.

And a few weeks later, there'll be an election.

Kavanaugh, who is suddenly the least popular nominee for the court since Robert Bork, has left Republicans fumbling for a way to endorse him. Democrats, who entered this fight nervously expecting Kavanaugh to be confirmed, are increasingly bold about condemning him. The dynamic of a few weeks ago, with conservatives expecting red-state Democrats to vote for Kavanaugh or suffer a voter backlash, has been replaced by a rolling, tumbling mess.

The Republican responses, in Senate races, really fit into four categories. No Republican has called on Kavanaugh to quit, which  distinguishes this drama from 2005, when the nomination of Harriet Miers was done in by conservatives. But some are leaving room to bail on the nominee.

"Plow ahead." Those were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's words Friday, when he told 2,000-odd conservatives at Values Voter Summit that Kavanaugh would be confirmed.  Just one candidate in a closely contested race is talking so confidently — Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who's challenging Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

“They were drunk. Nothing evidently happened in it all, even by her own accusation” Cramer told North Dakota radio this week.  “Again, it was supposedly an attempt or something that never went anywhere.”

Heitkamp, who has said she would not decide on whether to confirm Kavanaugh until and unless Ford testifies, said in a statement that “Cramer's comments are disturbing and they don’t reflect the values of North Dakota.”

Listen, then vote. Saying Ford should be heard has been more popular than the “plow ahead” stance.  

Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), the only Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who faces reelection this year, has been cautious, while Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), Cruz's challenger, has said flat-out that he'd oppose Kavanaugh. 

“The allegations she’s raised are serious, and they deserve to be treated with respect,” Cruz said of Ford on Friday night in his first debate with O'Rourke.

In Tennessee,  the reddest state where Republicans are defending an open Senate seat this year, both Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) and Democratic former governor Phil Bredesen last week had called for Ford to be heard. ​​​​​Bredesen had added that if her testimony was credible, Kavanaugh's nomination would be finished.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who's seeking to hold retiring Sen. Jeff Flake's (R) seat for her party, has taken a similar position, while voicing slightly more skepticism of Ford.

“I think she’s sincere in her beliefs of what happened to her, and she should be able to tell her story, and that needs to then be weighed against, you know, Judge Kavanaugh’s response and the other weight of the evidence while we move forward to fill this important position with the Supreme Court session starting in early October,” McSally told radio host Hugh Hewitt last week. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, her Democratic opponent, has called for “a thorough investigation, in the public eye.” 

Republicans in New Jersey and Wisconsin, both seen increasingly as long shots in November, also called for Ford to be heard.

Listen, but why now?  Also popular: making it about Democrats.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the only Republican up for reelection in a state Trump lost, said on a conference call that the Ford allegations were likely a “hiccup” before a successful vote. He clarified those remarks the next day: “I was referring to how poorly the Democrats have handled this process and the fact that the Democrats have not worked with the Judiciary Committee chairman in good faith.”

A number of other Republicans have gotten their licks in on Democrats while speaking respectfully about Ford. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who had been calling on Sen. Joe Manchin III (D) to back Kavanaugh, told WOWK last week that Democrats were “waiting and doing this for political purposes” but that some caution made sense.

Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale, who had been hammering Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), for not supporting Kavanaugh, said through a spokesman that “Dianne Feinstein and Senate Democrats sat on this information” and leaked it to hurt Kavanaugh. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) and Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley also attacked Feinstein, with Hawley adding that Democrats “don't care about the truth.” Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said that Ford's allegations should have been probed “months ago,” while agreeing that they should be investigated now. They did not address that Feinstein said she withheld the information because of Ford's wish for anonymity.

Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun of Indiana didn't name Feinstein in his statement but criticized Democrats for not airing the allegations sooner. “I support Senator Grassley’s decision to have these 11th-hour allegations thoroughly reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and weighed against Judge Kavanaugh’s decades of public service, sterling record on the bench, outstanding personal reputation, and his unequivocal denial of the allegations,” he said. His opponent, Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) has called for any confirmation vote to wait until Ford is heard.

Oh, like you guys are so innocent? The timing of the Kavanaugh flap was awkward for Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), who last week began attacking Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) over his 1986 divorce and an incident in which Brown pinned his ex-wife against a wall.

“The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh are serious and should be thoroughly examined, and by the same standard, anyone who calls on Kavanaugh to step aside based on these allegations must also call on Sherrod Brown to resign given the substantial evidence and affidavits detailing Brown’s history of domestic violence,” said Renacci.

Brown's ex-wife, who has endorsed him and raised money for him, has repeatedly called on Republicans to stop dredging up the divorce record. Minnesota's Karin Housley, meanwhile, has said that Kavanaugh should face questions — then asked why Sen. Tina Smith (D) had not called for more scrutiny of Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic candidate for attorney general in the state.

In 2006, Ellison got a restraining order against a woman who had accused him of having an abusive extramarital affair with her. This year, Ellison is cooperating with an internal Democratic Party probe of his relationship with an ex-girlfriend who says he was emotionally abusive to her and once pulled her off a bed during an argument.

When asked — and I've been among the people asking — Democrats have deferred to the internal investigation. Republicans point out, correctly, that the probe is hardly as intensive as the FBI probe being demanded of Kavanaugh. But in pivoting to the Ellison question, Republicans implicitly suggest that Kavanaugh's past is worth looking into. 

Here's what to watch before and after Thursday's hearing:

  •  Does any Republican oppose Kavanaugh? Not since 1991, when Clarence Thomas was confirmed, has a senator opposed a nominee from his or her president's party. Party loyalty is particularly important to Republicans now given their slim two-seat advantage in the Senate. 
  •  Does any Republican candidate take a harder line against Ford — a line that would echo much of the party's base, distrustful of the media and this process?
  •  Does any red state Democrat pronounce him or herself satisfied by Kavanaugh's answers? If so, watch the Democratic base in his or her state. It put up with it when Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin voted for Neil Gorsuch. This time may be different.
  • Will the president weigh in before the hearing — and if he does, how will candidates respond?
AD WATCH

California 45: Democrat Katie Porter, who won a hard-edged primary contest as the left's favorite candidate, now opposes the state gas tax that could be overturned with a November ballot measure. She hits that theme in this ad, which is playing in Orange County against ads that warn voters that Porter studied under Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). This may be a problem for long-term liberal governance, but it's designed to take away the GOP's best weapon in Orange County.

Michigan Governor: Republicans have launched ads against Democrat Gretchen Whitmer on an issue Whitmer was expecting: her decision, as a county prosecutor, to refer to the state the case of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused more than 150 girl and women. That handed the case to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who prosecuted Nasser and has cited that work in TV ads. The wrinkle: Both Whitmer and Schuette are backed by different family members of Nassar family victims.

New York 27: Rep. Chris Collins (R), who planned to retire after being indicted this month, restarted his campaign this week after it was determined that he couldn't come off the ballot. His opening salvo: 30 seconds of Democratic opponent Nate McMurray speaking Korean, as chyrons tell us that McMurray "helped American companies hire foreign workers." The charge isn't true, and the McMurray speech in the ad was actually about his support for peace negotiations between North and South Korea. Collins defends his use of it by pointing out that McMurray supported the last trade deal with Korea, ipso facto leading to outsourcing.

Tennessee Senate: Democrat Phil Bredesen is running, in large part, on his record of reforming Tennessee's Medicaid system as governor. The Senate Leadership Fund's new ad tries to hit him on his strength, by accusing him of supporting single-payer health care. But there's something amiss with the clip used to hit Bredesen, in which he says "single payer," and then "actually, we should do."

The full quote, from an eight-year-old C-Span interview, was this: "Single-payer, the federal government collecting the money and then turning it over, I mean that’s what I think actually we should do. Single-payer in the sense of Medicare, where government is collecting the money and then is paying all the claims, I think would be a disastrous direction for the country." Bredesen, like a lot of Democrats in 2009 and 2010, had an alternative health-care fix that doesn't share much DNA with "single-payer" as conceived by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The upshot: If you're a Democrat, and the words "single payer" ever escaped your lips, prepare to have them flung back at you in an ad.

Texas Senate: It's not an ad — it's not running on TV — but Ted Cruz's tweet about a speech Beto O'Rourke gave at a black church has defined their race all weekend. At their Friday debate, Cruz kept up his criticism of O'Rourke after the Democrat condemned the death of Botham Jean, a black man shot by a police officer who authorities say mistakenly entered his apartment. 

"I’ve been to too many police funerals," explained Cruz. "I was here in Dallas when five police officers were gunned down because of irresponsible and hateful rhetoric."

After the debate, Cruz tweeted a video of O'Rourke, chopping the air with his hands and bringing a mostly black audience to their feet with his outrage about the Jean killing. "How can it be — in this day and age, in this very year, in this community — that a young man, African American, in his own apartment, is shot and killed by a police officer?" he asked.

Cruz's emphasis on this isn't hard to understand; he's said that both on this, and on his endorsement of black athletes protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, O'Rourke is siding against people who keep Americans safe. But it says plenty about the shifting politics of criminal justice reform. Texas happens to be the incubator of "Right on Crime," a conservative movement for reform. As recently as 2015, Cruz was calling for sentencing reform on the grounds that people who are "poor or minorities" were adversely affected by current laws.  But as a candidate for president, Cruz began to warn that reformers could make the country less safe; this year, he's warning that criticizing police might make life more dangerous for them.

POLL WATCH

Generic Ballot (NBC/WSJ, 594 Likely Voters)
Democrats - 51%
Republicans - 43%

Yes, the headline is a 12-point Democratic lead among registered voters, but this likely voter number, showing a narrower 8-point lead, is in line with the poll average we've started to see every week. Republicans belly-flopped out of Labor Day and are polling around as weakly now as Democrats did at this point in 2010. They have eight weeks left, weeks when they reasonably expect continued strong economic news, and when Democrats expect a health care headlines that center the election on their issue — especially a ruling in the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

Iowa Governor (Iowa poll, 555 Likely Voters)
Fred Hubbell (D) - 43%
Kim Reynolds (R) - 41%

No state epitomizes this year's Republican problems quite like Iowa, where the 2014/2016 elections wiped out Democrats and gave Reynolds — who became governor after Governor-for-Life Terry Branstad went to Beijing  as U.S. ambassador— total control of government. And it's not going great. The key result here comes on Medicaid, with 70 percent of all voters saying that the partial privatization of Medicaid has been a problem; Hubbell is running to end that experiment.

Florida Senate (FAU, 850 LIkely Voters)
Rick Scott (R) - 42%
Bill Nelson (D) - 41%

The rule of thumb — always savvy-sounding, not always right — is that an incumbent under 50 percent after Labor Day is almost surely beaten. This difference here is that the FAU poll is the first one to find Scott's lead slipping after a remarkable few months of TV ad dominance. Since August, he's down 3 points; Nelson is up 2. The same poll shows President Trump's approval in the state down to 39 percent, and 32 percent of people blaming "state government" — i.e., two-term Governor Scott —- for the state's growing algae problem. (Scott easily won his nomination last month, but performed worst in the primary against fringe candidate Rocky de La Fuente in areas affected by algae.) A month ago, Republicans were saying that Democrats might simply have to cut Nelson loose. Democrats are going to call that bluff. One thing to watch: Hurricane season, which gives governors short-lived boosts of popular if, as Florida governors tend to do, they handle the threat efficiently.

Rhode Island Governor (WPRI/Roger Williams, 420 Likely Voters)
Gina Raimondo (D) - 43%
Allan Fung (R) - 36%
Joe Trillo (I) - 7%

Both Raimondo and Fung survived serious primary challenges. Raimondo's got more attention because, well, she's an incumbent Democratic governor, and Fung is the mayor of Cranston who lost to Raimondo in 2014. But Fung might have had the more bitter primary; Patricia Morgan, the legislator he defeated, has flirted with endorsing Trillo, a conservative independent. Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans here, and the only path for an upset in is a three-way race where Republicans are united and their candidate wins independents. That hasn't been happening, and Republicans have more important targets as they look where to spend in October.

ON THE TRAIL

Social conservatives held two major political gatherings this weekend, and at both, the conversation repeatedly turned to Kavanaugh. In Washington, the Family Research Council-led “Values Voter Summit” was, like the previous year's, a celebration of the Trump administration, especially its “transformation” of the federal courts. In Des Moines, the Iowa Family Leader's annual dinner rang out with praise for Trump and for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley. 

Both events put the Kavanaugh accusations in a context that social conservatives are comfortable with, but many Republicans are not. They describe Kavanaugh as being, like Justice Clarence Thomas — and like Trump himself — dragged through the mud by liberals who may well be lying.

At the Iowa Faith and Freedom Dinner, multiple speakers said that the left was out to destroy strong conservatives.

“I’m thinking, is there any man in this room that wouldn’t be subjected to such an allegation?” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) asked, according to the Des Moines Register's Brianne Pfannenstiel. “A false allegation? How can you disprove something like that? Which means, if that’s the new standard, no man will ever qualify for the Supreme Court again. "

None of this should be surprising, but it's instructive to see it up close. In 2016, social conservatives supported Trump for president after a brutal final month when the nominee was repeatedly accused of sexual assault. 

One year later, when he was accused of making unwanted advances on young women, Alabama's Roy Moore said that his accusers were lying. According to the exit poll in Moore's Senate race, 42 percent of Alabamians went to the polls believing that the allegations were “probably” or “definitely” false.

This weekend, interviews at the Values Voter Summit tended to back up what polling shows — conservatives are likely to say that charges against Kavanaugh are false, as they are hard to verify and emerged at a crucial time.

2020

Michael Avenatti. He's the star guest at a Monday fundraiser in Los Angeles for "Flip the 14," a group organized to elect a Democratic majority in the House. Avenatti has previously said that his goal for 2018 is to campaign for Democrats in as many states as possible.

Joe Biden. He's campaigning with gubernatorial candidate James Smith in South Carolina on Wednesday, then heading to Georgia to campaign with Stacey Abrams on Thursday.

Mike Bloomberg. He'll speak at Emily's List's pre-election gala, a move already drawing some how-dare-he coverage on the left.

Eric Garcetti. The mayor of Los Angeles spent Sunday in South Carolina, culminating with a speech at the "Charleston County Democratic Party's sold out annual Blue Jamboree." On Monday, he's launching get-out-the-vote campaigns for Nevada Democrats. On Tuesday, he's partying with DJ Khaled to raise $1 million for state Democratic Parties — not just the first four primary states, but another one, and another one.

Elizabeth Warren. She spent Saturday in Oklahoma, her home state, rallying with teachers and praising their protest movement, which has collected pre-midterm electoral scalps. (Click through for an extremely Warren photo of her celebrating next to a high school's logo.)

READING LIST

"Inside a Failed Silicon Valley Attempt to Reinvent Politics,"  by Joshua Brustein

Remember Win The Future, the Silicon Valley project designed to move the Democratic Party in a business-friendlier direction?  No? Anyway, it transformed from its original ambitions, into an app that doesn't really work.

"What N.J. Democrats REALLY think about Menendez's chances in this Trump-fueled election," by Brent Johnson and Jonathan Salant

Every boldfaced Democratic name in the Garden State gets quoted in this comprehensive read on whether the party really thinks it can fumble away this Senate seat. Short answer: No. Menendez may never recover from the corruption charges against him, even a jury let him off. But Menendez doesn't think Bob Hugin can recover from his ties to Trump. "It is an albatross around his neck that he supported Donald Trump, he was his finance chair in New Jersey, he was a delegate at the Republican convention for him, he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars for his re-election," he says.

COUNTDOWN

... four days until the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings
... 44 days until the midterms
... 64 days until the filing deadline for Chicago mayoral candidates
... 506 days until the 2020 New Hampshire presidential primary