Republicans credit the 'Kavanaugh effect' for Senate wins against red-state Democrats

  • Senior GOP lawmakers say that the politically fraught road to then-nominee Kavanaugh's confirmation galvanized Republicans to show up at the polls for the midterm elections.
  • Multiple Democratic senators in purple or red states who voted against confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court lost their seats Tuesday night.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the so-called Kavanaugh effect was "very helpful."
US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh speaks on the second day of his confirmation hearing in front of the US Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, on September 5, 2018. 
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh speaks on the second day of his confirmation hearing in front of the US Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, on September 5, 2018. 

The battle in Congress over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh had consequences that reached far beyond the high court bench, Republicans say.

Senior GOP lawmakers said Wednesday that the politically fraught road to then-nominee Kavanaugh's confirmation galvanized Republicans to show up at the polls for the midterm elections.

Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both credited the so-called Kavanaugh effect for Republican victories in key Senate races against red-state Democrats.

Graham, in a thread of tweets Wednesday morning, said that the constituents of those Democratic incumbents who voted against Kavanaugh "held them responsible for being part of a despicable smear campaign orchestrated by the left."

The "#KavanaughEffect," Graham said, should be renamed "#KavanaughsRevenge."

Senate Majority Leader McConnell, speaking to reporters about the midterms Wednesday on Capitol Hill, said the Kavanaugh effect was "very helpful."

Republicans in critical states for the party were "highly offended" by the Democrats' conduct during the confirmation proceedings, McConnell said, and the fallout from the process acted "like an adrenaline shot" for GOP turnout.

Multiple Democratic senators in purple or red states who voted against confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court lost their seats Tuesday night.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who lost to GOP challenger Kevin Cramer, said when she announced her "no" vote that if she were making a purely political decision, "I certainly would be deciding the other way."

After initially completing his confirmation hearings before the Senate, Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct in decades-old incidents by multiple women. Kavanaugh categorically denied the claims and vowed to defend himself under oath before the Judiciary Committee once more.

Some Democrats called for his resignation over the allegations, while many Republicans — especially Graham — leaped to the nominee's defense and launched fiery attacks on Democrats.

"This is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward because of this crap," Graham told Democrats at the time. "If this is the new norm, you better watch out for your nominees."

Dan Judy, Republican pollster and vice president of North Star Opinion, said, "The fight over Justice Kavanaugh brought the stakes of this election into stark relief, and helped get Republicans motivated behind Senate candidates in ways they weren't before."

Judy added that "opposing Kavanaugh exposed a number of Democrats who were claiming centrist records in very conservative states."

Barbara Kittridge, founder of progressive strategy group Motive, said, "The 'hangover' from the Kavanaugh hearings certainly impacted both Senate and also House races."

Kittridge added, however, that the contentious hearings "clearly drove away female suburban voters from the GOP and that cost them the House. The gender gap is too significant to be ignored."

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who called the allegations against Kavanaugh "disturbing and credible," was also unseated Tuesday night by Republican Mike Braun.

Another vulnerable Senate Democrat who voted against Kavanaugh's confirmation, Bill Nelson of Florida, was still locked in a race that was too close to call by Wednesday at noon ET, according to NBC News projections.

After McConnell and Graham made their remarks Wednesday, NBC News reported that Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of red-state Montana was the apparent winner of his race against Republican Matt Rosendale. Tester had also voted against Kavanaugh.

In the wake of the midterms, Graham and McConnell both noted that Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, which went heavily for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, had voted "yes" on Kavanaugh and was re-elected.