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The Trailer: Kavanaugh and the Democrats who backed Gorsuch

In this edition: The Kavanaugh problem for red state Democrats, Rick Scott hitting red tides in Florida, health care double-talk, and how to Be A Hero.

You're laughing with me, not at me, and this is the Trailer.

Senate Republicans, still on war footing to save the Supreme Court nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh, probably don’t need a single Democratic vote to confirm him. But they see political opportunity in the votes of Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the only three Democrats in the Senate who voted for President Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch. All three are facing voters in six weeks. 

The calculation by Republicans isn't the Democrats would, or could, bail out Kavanaugh; it's that even the least popular nominee in decades is popular in their deep-red states. There's even talk of forcing a  vote on Kavanaugh to the floor even if Republicans lack the votes to confirm him, as that would put three Democrats on the spot, with a pre-election vote that put them on the same side as the “angry left.”

As of this evening, all three Democrats are undecided on Kavanaugh. In each of their states, Republican challengers have called on them to get off the fence and back him. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has called Manchin “complicit” in a “witch hunt.” Indiana's Mike Braun has called the Kavanaugh scandal “orchestrated from the get-go.” Rep. Kevin Cramer (N.D.) has gone even further, suggesting that even if a teenage Kavanaugh did attempt sexual assault, he deserves a second chance and a lifetime spot on the Supreme Court.

Heitkamp has made hay of Cramer's responses — but remained opaque on her vote. The reason, say conservatives and liberals in her state, is that neither a “no” or a “yes” has much of an upside. A “yes” would go into Heitkamp's portfolio of votes with Republicans, which she has advertised to voters all year. But Demand Justice, a national liberal organization opposing Trump nominees, found 26 percent of North Dakota Democrats saying they'd be less likely to back Heitkamp if she supported Kavanaugh — votes Heitkamp probably needs in November.

“Her constituency would really appreciate a no vote,” said Dana Bisignani, a Fargo, N.D., organizer with Democratic Socialists of America. “A yes vote would say to people that she lacks political courage.”

Rob Port, a North Dakota conservative radio host and blogger, said there might be no politically sound option for Heitkamp — especially with the Republican base increasingly seeing Kavanaugh as unfairly smeared and embattled by the left.

“If Heitkamp votes against him, I suspect right-of-center voters here are going to see it as something less about Kavanaugh than as a tacit endorsement of the tactics used against him,” Port said. “Either way she votes, she's going to lose votes, and she can't afford to lose any.”

Donnelly and Manchin have the same dilemma. They broke with their party to support Gorsuch's nomination, a vote that their left-wing constituents put up with. They face new risks if they back Kavanaugh, a nominee who a majority of Democrats believe may have committed sexual assault.

“For [Donnelly] to vote no would renew some of the faith in him that's been slipping with his base,” said Dan Canon, a civil rights lawyer in Bloomington who waged a left-wing bid for Congress this year and thinks a vote to confirm Kavanaugh could hurt turnout for Donnelly in November.

Manchin, who has said that Thursday's Senate hearing could help Kavanaugh “clear his name,” has the trickiest political math. West Virginia liberals rallied behind Manchin after he opposed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the 2017 tax cut package, but in this year's primaries he lost 30 percent of the vote to an environmental activist who ran to his left. Kavanaugh, at least before the assault allegations, was relatively popular — in a MetroNews poll this month, 62 percent of West Virginians backed the nominee

“If he were to vote against Kavanaugh, I think he still gets elected and it would be the courageous thing to do,” said Ryan Frankenberry, the director of the West Virginia Working Families Party. “It would solidify the base of Democrats in this state who have felt like they aren't represented by their party.”

If Manchin were to weigh the evidence and vote for Kavanaugh anyway? “I think he still wins, but he doesn't excite that base,” Frankenberry said.

After Thursday, if Republicans give up on the Kavanaugh nomination, all of these political questions are moot. If they push forward and Kavanaugh does not have 51 Republican votes, no Democrats expect Donnelly, Heitkamp, or Manchin to save him. 


Iowa 03: No Republican has figured out the perfect way to escape Democrats' health-care attacks; Rep. David Young (R) is trying to combine every defense so far into one short ad. In it, he highlights his vote for the Republicans' American Health Care Act as a vote in favor of "protecting Iowans with preexisting conditions" and accuses Democrat Cindy Axne of backing "government-run health care that experts say will cost $32 trillion." But Axne, who defeated the Iowa campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to win her nomination, does not support Medicare for All.  (The Post's Fact Checker gave three Pinocchios to the claim that the AHCA would have protected people with preexisting conditions.)

Michigan 08: VoteVets has tapped former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel — who was, before that, a Republican senator from Nebraska — for an ad praising Democrat Elissa Slotkin for "protecting our military." It's a defensive buy, coming after Republicans used footage of the late John McCain criticizing Slotkin, then at the State Department, over the rise of ISIS.

Minnesota 01: Democrat Dan Feehan is crying foul over an NRCC ad that portrays him as callous about military funding. In it, a clip of Feehan — an Iraq War veteran who worked at the Department of Defense —is seen saying "every time the Army complains, every time the Marine Corps complains … I ask them to please stop. Stop complaining." The full quote: "Every time the Army complains, every time the Marine Corps complains, the ground side in particular, every time the Navy complains, I ask them to please stop. Stop complaining, because at the end of the day I worry about the Air Force."

This is one of several recent ads that have attacked some Democrats' apparent strength — their military service — by portraying them as anti-troop. In Colorado, the Congressional Leadership Fund has run three ads against Democrat Jason Crow that highlight some meetings he missed on a VA board. Like the Minnesota ads, those spots don't mention that the Democrat is, himself, a veteran.

New Jersey 07: The DCCC is trying to punch through Republican Rep. Leonard Lance's moderate image with a spot that shows a worried family at home as footage of Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh, and reports of school shootings, blare across their TV. 

Virginia 07: Rep. Dave Brat (R)  is reintroducing himself to voters as a get-it-done economist, with "a plan to fix our broken health care system." This race also fits into the pattern Republicans would like to see in 2018: super PACs pounding Democrats with negative ads, as the incumbents share their own positives. 

Illinois Attorney General: Democrat Kwame Raoul has been on a tear against Republican Erika Harold; his latest negative ad attacks Harold for opposing legal abortion "even in cases of rape or incest," as the image of President Trump floats menacingly onscreen. It's a surprisingly rough blow in a race that Raoul has always led by double digits. The reason for Raoul's caution: Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Ill.), who is seen as the incumbent most likely to lose in November, has funneled money into Harold's campaign, helping her run ads that portray Raoul as corrupt.


Party favorability (Gallup, 1,035 adults)
Republicans - 45%
Democrats - 44%

We haven't seen many rosy polls for Republicans lately, which made this out-of-the-blue result into quite a phenomenon  — even Donald Trump Jr. tweeted about it.  While favorability of the Democratic Party has remained flat, favorability of Republicans jumped to the highest level since 2011. What does it augur for the party? Not much. Gallup's own analysis points out that the GOP landslides of 2010 occurred "when favorable views of both parties were about the same."

Arizona Senate (Marist, 950 adults)
Kyrsten Sinema (D) - 45%
Martha McSally (R) - 43%
Angela Green (G) - 6%

The toplines here didn't surprise Democrats, who believe that Sinema remains in command of a race that will end up close. (She is viewed favorably by most voters; McSally, who navigated a long and sometimes ridiculous primary to become the nominee, is narrowly viewed unfavorably.) What woke them up was the number for Angela Green, a woman who won the Green Party's nomination as a write-in candidate, has done no visible campaigning, and whose candidate website suggests she wants to be "the queen of capitalism," which is not normally a characteristic associated with the far-left party. In 2012, when Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) won his sole term, a Libertarian candidate got 4.4 percent of the vote; some throwaway votes might need to be factored in to both parties' Arizona strategies.

Florida Senate (Quinnipiac, 888 Likely Voters)
Bill Nelson (D) - 53%
Rick Scott (R) - 46%

Even Democrats don't quite believe that Nelson has opened up a lead on Scott, but they do think that he's fought back to a tie after Scott spent a long, painful summer out-spending him on TV. The movement in this poll happened almost entirely with Latino voters — they now back Nelson, something that Democrats do think would be enough to win the race. Also noteworthy — voters are split on Brett Kavanaugh, with 48 percent saying he should not be confirmed.  An NBC/Marist poll also released Tuesday gave Nelson a smaller, three-point edge over Scott among likely voters.

Virginia 07 (Monmouth, 400 voters)
Abigail Spanberger (D) - 47%
Dave Brat (R) - 47%

Monmouth's choose-your-own-adventure sampling makes this everything from a tie to a clear Spanberger advantage. In no calculation, however, is Brat doing better than a tie, in a district he won by 16 points two years ago. If this race gets away from Brat, expect to hear and see finger-pointing at the CLF's use of Spanberger's personnel file to accuse her of tacitly supporting terrorism by briefly teaching at a school that — years after she left — produced two terror suspects. (Democrats have heard a loud backlash to those ads at the doors.)


Mike Bloomberg. The former New York mayor used his Monday speech at an Emily's List fundraiser to announce a partnership “to help female candidates across the country get elected to Congress,” and to say that he believed Brett Kavanaugh's accusers. “Until a thorough investigation occurs, the only Senate vote that would respect women and the rule of law is: No.”

John Delaney. The Maryland congressman and actual, declared presidential candidate will be in Iowa this weekend, stopping at a gay pride event in Ames and a party steak fry in Des Moines.

Jeff Flake. He's planning to head to New Hampshire on Monday for Politics and Eggs, his second high-profile trip to the state, where questions about a potential GOP primary challenge to Trump and noncommittal responses are sure to follow. It's unclear whether Republican leadership's plans to keep the Senate in through the weekend to debate Kavanaugh's nomination would change that.

Michael Avenatti. The attorney locked his Twitter account after being accused of being pranked into representing a third Kavanaugh accuser who does not exist, something he called a "total fabrication" in a Tuesday tweet. Avenatti will be in New Hampshire this weekend, at several Democratic get-out-the-vote events.


"It's Time for Some Brett Kavanaugh Game Theory," by Jonathan V. Last

The Weekly Standard's columnist applies actual, John Nash game theory to determine that both parties would be better off if Brett Kavanaugh dropped his Supreme Court nomination — Republicans could get a conservative they liked more, Democrats could get a win, and neither party would spend 30 years wondering what really happened at that alleged party in Maryland.


THE PAC: Be A Hero

PARTY: Democratic

FOCUS: Raising money to defeat Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) if she backs Brett Kavanaugh; defeating at least five House Republicans. Carrying on the work of Ady Barkan, a liberal economic justice activist who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, and who has repeatedly gotten arrested — in his wheelchair — to protest Republican legislation.

BUDGET: It has raised $1.5 million in its innovative/controversial defeat-Collins fund, with a set goal of $2 million, and 53,000 donors so far. It's seeking to raise $2.5 million for ads in swing states. (It's closing in on $1 million from 4,000 donors so far.)

PLAN: To defeat Republican incumbents in California 25, Ohio 01, Illinois 06, New Jersey 03, New York 22 and 24, and Michigan 06 — though New York 24 is still up in the air, as Rep. John Katko (D-N.Y.) opposed the ACA repeal bill. Barkan, who has been steadily losing his voice and mobility, has shot ads asking voters to elect Democrats and protect the health care system from Republicans; his wife, Rachel, has also shot some ads soon to be rotated in. In the New Jersey ad, Rachel Barkan recalls how she “watched Ady beg Rep. Tom McArthur (R-NJ) to protect health care, only to watch him turn Ady away.”

“It's a very straightforward message,” said Liz Jaff, a Democratic strategist who helped craft both campaigns. “We're not building a new movement, we're trying to build up other people.”

EFFECTIVENESS: The fund to help a Collins challenger in 2020 has seriously riled Republicans, with a conservative-leaning watchdog group demanding a criminal probe, to determine whether offering to stand down only if Collins votes a certain way amounts to “bribery.” The ads — all of which center Barkan, a sympathetic and memorable figure — have tested well in focus groups.


... two days until the Ford/Kavanaugh hearings
... 11 days until the Iowa Democratic Party's annual dinner
... 42 days until the midterms
... 126 days until the filing deadline for Kentucky's off-year primaries