- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2020

It was the most consequential vote they’ve taken all year, but the confirmation Monday of Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett is playing surprisingly little role in senators’ reelection chances back home.

Partisans on both sides had insisted the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September would instantly catapult the matter to the political fore, but it’s played out very differently. From Maine to Colorado, political pros said they’re just not seeing the confirmation fight resonate with voters, even with control of the Senate at stake.

Few candidates are running ads on the fight, and when they do, the message is drowned out by the rest of the election

“Amid a race that seems like it’s pretty much already baked in, I think there’a so few persuadable voters,” said Kyle Saunders, a political science professor at Colorado State University, who has been watching the race there between Sen. Cory Gardner, a one-term GOP incumbent, and former Gov. John Hickenlooper, his Democratic challenger.

Mr. Gardner backed Justice Barrett in Monday’s vote.

So did nearly every other Republican in the chamber, including Georgia’s two senators, both of whom face voters next week.

Yet the Barrett confirmation fight is “a very minimal factor,” said Charles S. Bullock III, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.

One of the two races has turned into a slugfest between two Republicans, while the other, with Sen. David Perdue trying to fend off Democrat Jon Ossoff, has focused elsewhere.

“The health care issue is the one that dominates their back and forth,” Mr. Bullock said.

In North Carolina, the Senate race has been dominated by the Democratic challenger’s admissions of improper behavior with a woman who isn’t his wife. In Michigan and Arizona, candidates have sparred as much over Democrats’ hopes of packing the Supreme Court with additional justices as they have over Judge Barrett herself.

One reason for the lack of traction may be conflicting sentiments.

Voters generally say they want the winner of the election to make the pick to fill the seat. But when asked specifically about Judge Barrett, a plurality in battleground states say she does deserve confirmation, according to polling by PoliticalIQ.

Another reason the Supreme Court fight might not be resonating is because Democrats have done a good job of turning the election into a referendum on Obamacare, reprising a strategy that paid huge dividends in the 2018 midterm congressional election.

A third reason could be there’s just no room left for the issue — literally. Candidates’ ad strategies were planned months ago, and slots were all bought up focusing on other matters.

“The airwaves are so full of the already pre-canned ads, and pre-taped ads that I haven’t seen any that’s really been part of that conversation,” Mr. Saunders said.

It’s to the point where most pollsters aren’t even bothering to ask about the vacancy or its effect on the races.

One state where Justice Barrett’s nomination does loom large is South Carolina, where Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, is facing the race of his life against Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison. Mr. Graham, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, shepherded Judge Barrett’s nomination to the floor.

Mr. Graham believes the issue is a winner for him.

He issued a challenge Monday to Mr. Harrison, who has avoided saying whether he backed Justice Barrett.

“I have made my position clear. It is time for my opponent to do the same,” Mr. Graham said. “Mr. Harrison, do you support or oppose this highly qualified nominee?”

The Democrat has countered with the party’s argument that the Senate shouldn’t voting on a court nominee now. For one thing, he says, lawmakers should be focused on coronavirus. But he also points back to Mr. Graham’s “hold the tape” declaration two years ago that the GOP would not pursue a Supreme Court nomination in 2020.

Judging by the cash, Mr. Harrison is getting the better of the argument. He said he raised $2 million in the 48 hours surrounding the committee’s approval of Justice Barrett on Thursday.

GOP operatives said the court battle is helping Republicans shore up things in some red states where races are closer than they’d hoped. Those include Iowa and Kansas.

In Alabama, Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, was likely already headed to defeat but his vote against Justice Barrett could further energize Republican turnout.

GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville holds a 13-point lead in a poll out Monday by Cygnal, a GOP firm.

The high court is also an issue in Maine, where Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican joined Democrats in an attempt to filibuster the nomination over the weekend.

But it’s Ms. Collins’ vote in 2018 for President Trump’s previous nominee, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, that’s still drawing fire. The senator not only delivered a key vote in favor of Justice Kavanaugh, but gave an impassioned defense of him on the Senate floor.

James P. Melcher, a political science professor at the University of Maine-Farmington, said that vote helped Ms. Collins shore up her right flank and avoid a primary challenge this year. But it proved devastating among pro-choice women, who felt betrayed.

“Kavanaugh is still very much an issue in this election,” the Mr. Melcher said. “Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh enraged pro-choice women, not only because they didn’t trust Kavanaugh to be a pro-choice vote on the court — in spite of Collins’ assurances that he passed her pro-Roe test, but because of the allegations against him of mistreatment of women.”

Her opposition to confirming Justice Barrett didn’t make up for that, the professor said.

Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage told a Portland radio station earlier this month that Ms. Collins vote may even be costing her some of the support she earned from conservatives with her Kavanaugh vote.

“People are calling me and telling me they just can’t vote for her anymore,” he said.

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