The prolonged and contentious fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court has energized Republican voters angry at the newly minted justice’s perceived mistreatment.
But after Kavanaugh’s confirmation Saturday, Democrats are hoping they can rebound ahead of November’s election -- with one particular group of voters leading the way.
No voter bloc will be more closely watched in the coming weeks than that of college-educated women, a group of voters that had already become more Democratic since Donald Trump’s election.
Now, Democrats hope the GOP’s support of Brett Kavanaugh despite the sexual assault allegations against him will push those women further to the left -- enough to offset any sustained gains in Republican enthusiasm.
“If there’s a silver line in this Trump horror, it’s our voters understand exactly what the stakes are,” said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster. “(Christine Blasey) Ford’s testimony hit a deep vein among women. They’re not going to forget. They’re going to take action.”
It’s not a given that Democratic candidates will receive a bump in support from well-educated women in the wake of the nearly three-month ordeal from his nomination to his confirmation. But in the Trump era, the GOP has suffered the most distancing by them, with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon even declaring over the summer that college-educated Republican women were “gone” from the party.
The defection especially helps Democrats in the House, where the party is already targeting dozens of once-GOP suburban seats in states ranging from Virginia and North Carolina to Illinois and California.
Democratic strategists say those opportunities have been powered in large part by the anger many white-collar women feel over the GOP -- and there’s still room for the the Democratic Party to gain even more support.
“I’m reminded of when the shoe was on the other foot and we on the Democratic side would assume after a bad cycle, “Well at least we can’t do worse with white men or whites without a college degree,” said Zac McCrary, a Democratic pollster. “But every cycle we’d find out there was a new floor with those voters.
“It feels like Republicans are in something of a free fall with college educated women,” he added. “That just makes the math very difficult for them in many of the races that matter.”
That’s not to say that Democrats are necessarily in line to benefit overall from the fight over Kavanaugh.: One GOP strategist said that in two surveys taken this week, he had seen significant bumps in support for Republican candidates among GOP-leaning women, who previously had been leaning Democrat.
And even some Democratic strategists say privately that recent polling has trended away from them recently.
“I and other consultants saw a clear ‘Republican bump’ over the past week,” said one Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Unknowable whether that lasts or just was a phenomenon of the week.”
One challenge for Republicans: maintaining that energy for another month as the Supreme Court issue fades again from the national spotlight.
“You’d be amazed at the shelf life of these things,” GOP pollster Robert Blizzard said before the 50-48 Senate vote. “If he gets confirmed Saturday, I don’t know if we’re still talking about this in two weeks. We could be, if we think it’s a big enough impact where we start using it in messaging, maybe, but right now it’s hard to tell.”
Several candidates have already put the issue into ads, and conservative activists expressed optimism that this will remain a front-burner issue--one capable of energizing their base--through Election Day one month from now.
“I have noticed an amazing spike in engagement and energy on the side of conservatives,” said Penny Nance, the head of the socially conservative organization Concerned Women for America. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook, people are signing up to join--I haven’t seen this kind of energy since before the last election. Maybe not even then.
“What I’m observing is, the grassroots have woken up,” she continued. “I think there’s going to be a ‘Remember Kavanaugh’ rallying cry from the right going into the election. People are very angry.”
Tim Chapman, the executive director of the prominent conservative group Heritage Action, said his activists would engage in “a heavy round of thank yous” to the members who voted to confirm Kavanaugh, and added that the organization is “actively exploring whether we need to take paid ads on it.”
“Folks who voted against him, especially those red-state Democrats, are going to keep this issue one that’s salient. I think it’s going to have legs no matter what,” he said. “This isn’t a policy battle, one-and-done. This is something that cut to the core of big issues between two parties.”
Conservative activists, Chapman said, think Democrats “just hijacked the Me Too movement and used it to politically assassinate this judge. So I think that’s something that has staying power, I think it should have staying power. People should remember that when they go to the polls this fall. Our activists across the country know it in their bones.”
Adam Wollner contributed to this story