Conservative money groups pressure red-state Senate Democrats to support Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court

  • Conservative advocacy groups have launched a pressure campaign against red-state Democrats who are up for re-election this year to support Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.
  • Heritage Action, a conservative policy advocacy organization, has unleashed its grassroots team in recent days to push vulnerable red-state Democratic senators to back Kavanaugh despite an FBI background probe into allegations of sexual misconduct while he was in high school and college.
  • Republican strategists say the controversy over Kavanaugh has boosted the GOP base's enthusiasm ahead of the midterm elections.
Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Joe Manchin
Getty Images;  Samuel Corum | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images; Getty Images
Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Joe Manchin

Conservative advocacy groups have launched a pressure campaign against red-state Democrats who are up for re-election this year to support Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

Heritage Action, a conservative policy advocacy organization, has unleashed its grassroots team in recent days to push Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to back Kavanaugh despite an FBI background probe into allegations of sexual misconduct while he was in high school and college. Donnelly has already said he would vote against Kavanaugh.

Heritage Action has dedicated 60 percent of its $11.5 million budget to establishing a ground game to back Kavanaugh, according to the group's executive director, Tim Chapman. The group has focused more on moderate Democrats since allegations against Kavanaugh came to light. Kavanaugh denies the allegations.

"Manchin, I think, would love to vote yes. His state is clearly in favor of the nomination, and I've seen some polling in there to show how clear it is," Chapman said in an interview. "Heitkamp is dealing with a similar situation, and so is Donnelly. Those are the three that I think will cross over, with Manchin being at the top."

All three senators voted yes for Justice Neil Gorsuch when President Donald Trump nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2017.

On Monday, Heritage Action had activists go to the offices of the three red-state Democrats to drop off petitions with over 50,000 signatures in support of Kavanaugh.

A recent poll conducted by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, a dark money group that's spent up to $12 million to defend Kavanaugh since his nomination, shows the majority of voters in Heitkamp's and Manchin's states want the judge on the Supreme Court. A Quinnipiac University poll, meanwhile, shows nearly half of the country opposing Kavanaugh's confirmation.

Judicial Crisis Network announced Tuesday that it would move ahead with a $400,000 TV ad buy in North Dakota and West Virginia that calls on voters to tell their senators to side with Kavanaugh.

"Our goal is to be there in a defensive capacity when there are unfounded allegations raised," Carrie Severino, the group's chief counsel and policy director, said in a recent interview. "We simply have to respond when these kind of things come up."

Nonpartisan politics monitor Sabato's Crystal Ball marks Manchin's state of West Virginia as leaning Democrat in the race. Heitkamp's North Dakota contest is listed as a toss-up, as is Donnelly's Indiana race.

Polling averages show that Manchin and Donnelly are ahead of their Republican rivals by more than nine percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics. Heitkamp, however, is down six points.

Representatives for Heitkamp and Donnelly did not return requests for comment.

The North Dakota senator has said she is waiting for the FBI to complete its investigation before she makes a decision.

A spokesman for Manchin declined to comment. He echoed Heitkamp, however, in comments Tuesday on Capitol Hill, saying it would be "hypocritical to make any statement until the investigation is over" because he was one of the first people to call for the FBI to get involved.

Beyond pressuring vulnerable Democrats, GOP-affiliated groups such as Heritage Action are pushing Kavanaugh's nomination as a rallying point to get Republicans to turn out for House elections.

"The next move is to remind our activists about the terrible two weeks we've had as a country that will play itself over and over again if the Democrats have the chairmanships of all the House committees next year," Chapman said.

He said volunteers have noticed enthusiasm among Republican base voters in some districts that are still up in the air for GOP incumbents. One of the districts he pointed to is Kentucky's 6th, where Rep. Andy Barr is up against newcomer Amy McGrath, who had served as a lieutenant colonel in the Marines. Sabato's Crystal Ball calls the race a tossup.

By comparison, enthusiasm among the GOP was low before the accusations came out, Chapman contends. Since then, however, right-wing constituents have become enraged at the process and, in turn, have a new eagerness to vote in November, he said.

"This is now impacting the House races. We are seeing a lot of people wake up and say this is a 'massive battle,'" Chapman said.

Democratic strategists, however, say even if Kavanaugh gets through the full Senate vote, the accusations alone will be a positive thing overall for Democrats in November.

"There's no downside for Democrats at all," veteran Democratic advisor Manuel Ortiz said. "Even if Kavanaugh gets on the Supreme Court, for the midterms the allegations will energize the Latino and women vote."

Still, Ortiz conceded that red-state Democrats such as Heitkamp may be compelled to vote yes because North Dakota voters have signaled their support for Kavanaugh.