As President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans wait for the outcome of an FBI background investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, outside groups are using the lull to ramp up their pitch to voters.
America First Policies, a group closely affiliated with Trump, extended a pro-Kavanaugh ad this week it had initially expected to take off the air, aides told USA TODAY. The Judicial Crisis Network, which supports Kavanaugh, and the ACLU, which opposes him, both announced at least a million dollars in new advertising in recent days.
The latest blitz, which includes other national groups on both sides of the issue, comes as Kavanuagh’s confirmation has been put on hold by allegations of sexual assault. With the political impact of last week’s emotional Senate Judiciary Committee uncertain, outside groups are eager to be heard now before the next major news development.
“We needed to make sure senators remain open-minded about the FBI investigation,” said Faiz Shakir, national political director at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is spending just over $1 million in Colorado, Nebraska, Alaska and West Virginia.
The ACLU ad compares Kavanaugh to Bill Cosby, the former comedian sentenced last week for sexual assault, as well as to former President Bill Clinton.
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Early polling indicates Democrats may have the upper hand in the debate, which is playing out a month before midterm elections will decide control of Congress. Nearly half of U.S. voters in a Quinnipiac University poll this week opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation, up six points from a month ago.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Tuesday he will donate another $20 million to a super PAC helping Democratic Senate candidates this year. Part of Bloomberg’s motivation, an aide said, is the potential political fallout from the Kavanaugh hearing last week.
But Republicans said they, too, are seeing signs of renewed energy among core Trump supporters that some had initially suspected would be less likely than Democrats to turn out at polls next month. That’s part of the reason why America First decided to spend an additional $300,000 to continue airing its Kavanaugh ads on Fox News this week.
The upbeat ad pulls quotes from Kavanaugh and Trump and it doesn’t mention the allegations leveled by California professor Christine Blasey Ford and others.
“The hearing has in many ways poked the bear, meaning a sleeping giant has been awoken,” said Brian O. Walsh, who heads America First. “Something’s stewing out there that wasn’t stewing two weeks ago.”
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, said the group’s internal polling shows a bump in support for Kavanaugh, not a decline. The Washington-based conservative group, among the staunchest advocates for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, said Tuesday it would spend $400,000 on a new ad.
That ad will target Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, among the nation’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.
“People came to very different conclusions watching the same hearing,” Severino said. “What we see is the evidence doesn’t back up her story.”
In addition to the advertising, some groups intend to use the Kavanaugh nomination to drive turnout with more personal voter interactions.
Dorian Warren, president of the Center for Community Change, said the Washington-based social justice group will “absolutely” use the Kavanaugh storm in its get-out-the-vote campaign. The group, which opposes Kavanaugh, has used digital ads, text messages and phone calls to target voters in dozens of competitive districts.
“We use the issues that people feel most passionate about,” Warren said. “Are there millions of women pissed off? Hell, yes. And they’re going to be talking about why their vote matters if they’re angry about what happened” during the hearing.
National civil rights groups that oppose Kavanugh’s confirmation also plan to step up their messaging this week.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, which recently launched a national get-out-the-vote campaign, said the group’s opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation has already been a part of its messaging. The focus, he said, will be on making sure voters understand the importance of the Senate in selecting Supreme Court justices.
“I find that many of the voters we talk to aren’t clear about this whole process,” Morial said. “I do think it’s motivating people to turn out and vote. A lot of motivation is that this is a Trump appointment.”
The NAACP has been using Kavanaugh in its get-out-the-vote campaign since the summer, but will now up the intensity, said Derrick Johnson, the group’s president.
“We will use the Kavanuagh hearing as an example along with several other examples to demonstrate that this administration doesn’t respect African-Americans, especially women,” said Johnson, who attended Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. “It has been a strong motivator to turn out African-American women and other women.”
Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take control of the House of Representatives. Republicans are also fighting to maintain or expand their 51-to-49 seat Senate majority.
Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that the debate over Kavanaugh is energizing voters in both parties.
“I do think it brings up what’s at stake in this election,” Wicker said. “To that extent maybe a lot of citizens will be motivated to vote.”
This article provided by NewsEdge.