- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected today to approve the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court on a straight party-line vote as both sides begin using the vote as a campaign issue in this year’s elections.

From Rhode Island to New Mexico, operatives in both parties are using the nomination as a referendum on abortion and an indicator of a candidate’s independence.

“Claire McCaskill has finally chosen a stance on Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination for the Supreme Court — the same stance as [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Howard Dean and liberal special-interest groups that are funding her campaign,” Brian Walton, press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said yesterday of the Missouri Democrat challenging freshman Sen. Jim Talent.

“The special interests of the extreme left of the Democrat Party may play in Massachusetts, but they won’t sit well with the people of Missouri,” Mr. Walton added.

Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee will take heat in liberal Rhode Island if he votes for Judge Alito, Democrats say. And in New Mexico, Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman will take heat if he votes against the nominee, Republicans say. Neither has said how he intends to vote.

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey — challenging Republican Sen. Rick Santorum — has been pilloried by Republicans as “Silent Bob” for not taking a position either way.

Few votes, however, will be watched as closely as that of Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat who was sworn in last week as New Jersey’s junior senator and will cast his maiden vote on the nomination of a man he now represents. Judge Alito is a New Jersey resident.

As Judge Alito’s homestate senator, Mr. Mendendez is under pressure from Democrats to vote against confirmation. A spokesman said Mr. Menendez has “reservations,” but hasn’t decided how he will vote.

It’s not just senators up re-election this fall who are using the issue. Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who lost the 2004 election, yesterday used the judge in a fundraising appeal, saying the nominee “cannot be trusted on the Supreme Court.”

In Missouri, Mrs. McCaskill is being criticized by Republicans for being in line with Democrats like Mr. Kerry and Mr. Dean.

Last week, Mr. Dean was in Kansas City, Mo., campaigning for her when he let slip that the candidate opposed Judge Alito. “If Claire McCaskill were in the Senate, there would be one less vote for Judge Alito,” Mr. Dean told the crowd.

Her campaign spokesman at first tried to distance the candidate from the party chief. “Dean certainly doesn’t speak for Claire McCaskill and did not speak to her prior to making any comments,” said Tony Wyche.

But by the end of the week, Mrs. McCaskill had fallen in line with Democratic leaders, saying Judge Alito “is not someone who would defend civil rights.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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