GOP, Dems hope Supreme Court fight bolsters Senate prospects

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Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett departs with her husband, Jesse, after the third day of her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – For Republicans, the nomination fight over Amy Coney Barrett is a chance to seal conservative control of the Supreme Court for decades. For some GOP senators, it's also a lifeline they hope will preserve their political careers and their party's control of the chamber in November's elections.

The battle over President Donald Trump's pick is letting Senate Republicans facing tough reelections highlight issues like abortion and link themselves to a conservative, religious woman whose confirmation seems certain. Most importantly, they hope it will change the subject from Trump and his failure to control the coronavirus pandemic, which threaten to make Election Day miserable for the GOP.

But even some Republicans privately doubt the court battle will distract voters enough to make a difference. And Democrats are appealing to voters too, saying the GOP-led Senate is ignoring greater needs to quickly cement a 6-3 conservative court majority, threatening Democratic priorities like former President Barack Obama's health care law and the right to abortion.

“The Senate has a big job to do right now, and that's fighting the virus and getting people the relief they need,” said Democratic consultant Rodd McLeod, citing long-stalled economic relief legislation. “Instead, they're rushing through this nomination.”

There are competitive races for around a dozen GOP-held seats as the party defends its 53-47 Senate majority in next month’s elections. About half of them are in states like Montana and Kansas where Trump won easily in 2016 and embracing Barrett should win broad approval. But the rest are in battleground states like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and Maine, where backing her is riskier.

Either way, both sides are using the Supreme Court battle in fundraising appeals and other ways that underscore its political potency.

From the day after the September death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — whose vacancy Barrett will fill — through this Wednesday, each party has spent around $4 million on broadcast TV commercials highlighting the nomination fight, according to Kantar/CMAG, the ad-tracking firm. Democrats have advertised in seven Senate races and Republicans in eight. All but one, Sen. Doug Jones' uphill effort to survive in GOP-dominated Alabama, are contests where Republicans are defending seats.

In a common GOP theme, a spot by Senate candidate Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas says Democratic challenger Barbara Bollier would be “just another liberal rubber stamp” for judges favored by Democratic leaders.