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The White House is defending the FBI supplemental report on Brett Kavanagh that is now being read by senators in advance of a vote on the judge’s confirmation, as Democrats complain the probe was not thorough. (Oct. 4)
AP

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump was minutes into a fiery speech at a rally in southern Minnesota this week when he launched his latest rhetorical attack on the political storm surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

On the eve of a crucial and uncertain showdown over Kavanaugh in the Senate, the president revved up the raucous crowd, blasting Democrats for “trying to destroy” the Court of Appeals judge and predicting they would pay a price in the November elections. 

“Their rage-fueled resistance is starting to backfire,” Trump told the audience, which responded with chants of Kavanaugh’s name. “These people are loco.”       

The comments were the latest indication that Trump views the fight to confirm his embattled Supreme Court nominee as a potent issue for the midterms and one that could rile up the Republican base in a year when Democrats are seen as the more energized party.

In an election where turnout will almost certainly decide control of Congress, Republican operatives say the president saw an opportunity to turn a liability around. 

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White House aides had initially taken a more cautious approach, advising the president to tread carefully around a controversy that may still sour suburban women and independent voters. But in recent days Trump changed tack, viewing an outcry over the last-minute allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh as a way to drive turnout. 

“The springs are all wound pretty tight right now,” said J.C. Martin, chairman of the Republican Party in Polk County, Florida.

“People aren’t going to calm down after this.” 

But the strategy carries a big risk, analysts said, particularly if Kavanaugh is confirmed. Democrats believe Trump’s decision to mock Kavanaugh accuser Rachel Blasey Ford will drive a wedge between suburban women voters – a key demographic – and the Republican party. And Democrats say their core supporters are already energized.

Even those who voted for Kavanaugh acknowledged that Ford’s testimony was credible.

“The confirmation process – especially Trump’s mockery of Dr. Ford – only exacerbated the movement away from Trump among key demographics,” said Democratic consultant Ian Russell. “

Those key voters, he said, “aren’t going to forget or move on.”

Republicans have cheered early polling and fundraising numbers indicating that the Kavanaugh controversy helped to close an enthusiasm gap between the parties. A 10-point split in July between the number of Democrats and Republicans who described the election as “very important” all but disappeared, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll this week. 

Polls in marquee Senate races, including North Dakota, Missouri and Arizona, showed Republicans gaining some ground during the height of the Kavanaugh fight.

“This whole story has boomeranged against the Democrats in ways no one could have predicted,” said Texas-based GOP political consultant Matt Mackowiak. “Now the challenge is not losing the intensity.”

The approach Republican candidates are most likely to take, several political consultants said, is to blame Democrats for the process, including the last-minute nature of the allegations and the partisanship that followed. That is a message many Republicans can support, regardless of their thoughts on Kavanaugh. 

“Democrats have been trying to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Trump said at a recent rally, laying out the message in stark terms. “The Dems are willing to do anything to hurt anyone to get the power they so desperately crave.” 

The political calculus is much easier for Democrats. Already energized by their aversion to Trump, Kavanuagh’s confirmation may serve to crystallize the importance of the election, driving turnout. Democrats were already questioning the rosy picture some Republicans read into the polls, and whether the increase in enthusiasm was anything more than the usual tightening of a context before the election nears.

Trump’s approval rating, meanwhile, hovered in the low 40 percent range in five separate polls this week. A poll for Rasmussen Reports, which tends to show more favorable numbers for the GOP than the average, pegged Trump’s approval at 51 percent this month. 

“The GOP is in trouble because [of a] nationalized election around Trump and his 40 percent approval has shifted voters against him,” said Democratic pollster and strategist Stanley Greenberg.

Opposition, Greenberg added, is found among “all types of women and college graduates and the suburbs.”

Democrats need to flip 23 seats to take control of the House in the Nov. 6 election. Control of the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-to-49 seat majority, is also in play. 

A wave of protests poured over the Capitol in the days leading up the Senate votes, an indication of energy on among anti-Kavanaugh forces. Some confronted Republican senators, including Collins and Flake, in emotional episodes broadcast on cable news. In one particularly well-publicized exchange, a tearful woman approached Flake as he stood in an elevator 

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” she said. “You’re telling me that my assault doesn’t matter.”

Trump dismissed the protesters as “elevator screamers” and “troublemakers” in a tweet on Friday. Citing no evidence, the president described the protesters as “professionals” paid for their outrage by major Democratic donor George Soros.

“Don’t fall for it!” Trump tweeted. “Look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others.”    

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While some Republicans have raised concerns about maintaining the momentum for the next several weeks and into the election, others said the benefits are tangible and lasting. Martin, the county GOP official from Florida, said he has heard from Republican voters who haven’t been active in the party for years. 

“People are coming out of the woodwork,” Martin said. “And I have volunteers coming out of my ears.” 

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