- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Conservative groups are looking to make the Capitol Hill battle over President Obama’s judicial nominees an issue in Senate elections in 2014 by arguing that red-state Democrats are “rubber-stamping” liberal judges.

The Judicial Crisis Network has already announced a round of ads attacking Sen. Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana for supporting all of Mr. Obama’s judicial picks, and said she and other Democrats will have to be careful going forward about which judges they approve.

“They are going to have to decide whether they are gong to stick with a president who is flagging in popularity or represent the more moderate voters in their home states who will turn out at the ballot box,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network.

The issue boiled over late last month when Senate Democrats used the so-called nuclear option to change the chamber’s long-standing filibuster rules, eliminating the GOP’s chance for partisan blockades and making it easier for Mr. Obama’s nominations to clear the chamber.

Democrats already have a series of judges they plan to push through under the new rules, beginning Monday when they return from a two-week Thanksgiving vacation.

Ms. Severino said the judicial votes will undercut those Democrats who cast themselves as moderate “blue dog” Democrats, but then vote in lockstep with the left wing of their party when it comes to judicial nominees.

Others, though, contend the judicial fight is a little arcane for most voters and likely won’t be a big issue come Election Day.

“Unless the nominee is extremely controversial, which none of Obama’s have been, it’s a real stretch,” said Mark McKinnon, a GOP strategist. “Otherwise, it is expected that representatives vote for their party nominees. Generally, it’s just way off voters’ radar screens.”

Ford O’Connell, a GOP consultant, said the fight is “too inside baseball” for most rank-and-file voters — though it is an issue that resonates with tea partyers and the Republican base.

“Southerners in particular — in Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina — hate what they perceive as judicial activism from progressives,” he said.

Democrats said they welcome an electoral fight about judges, saying they believe voters will want to punish Republicans for obstruction of Mr. Obama’s agenda.

“This issue will only highlight the contrast between Democrats who are willing to break the logjam in Congress and Republicans who are more interested in obstructing progress than working with Democrats and compromising,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin.

Mark Rozell, a professor of politics at George Mason University, said judicial nominees generally do not have a big impact on a lawmaker’s political future, but that there have been some notable exceptions, including the fight over former President Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful attempt to tap Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court — a battle that provided a glimpse into the ideological leanings of senators and their positions on hot-button issues.

“A voting record on nominees may come to symbolize, for some constituents, certain political leanings that may become problematic for a senator,” Mr. Rozell said. “So advertisements castigating a senator for supporting ‘activist’ judges or ‘radical right’ judges may help to label a senator as outside the mainstream of his or her constituency.”

Judicial nominations will never rank high on a survey of what most drives voters, he said. “But when placed into the broader context of a senator’s overall record, votes on nominees can influence overall public perceptions of the incumbent.”

Conservatives are hoping to shape those perceptions by tying judicial votes to Senate Democrats who are suddenly desperate to distance themselves from Mr. Obama and his plummeting poll numbers.

Ms. Severino said that JCN might run ads targeting Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska and Kay R. Hagan in North Carolina, over judicial nominations.

The group has already run ads against Sen. Mark L. Pryor, Arkansas Democrat. Mr. Pryor was one of just three Democrats to vote against his party leaders’ use of the “nuclear option.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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