Politics

GOP groups to use Biden sex assault allegation, Kavanaugh treatment against Democrats in key Senate races

Key Points
  • Republican groups are aiming to use the sexual assault allegations against apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in their battle with Democrats in key Senate races in this year's campaign.
  • The GOP organizations are arguing that Democrats are applying a different standard to Biden than they did to Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was also accused of sexual assault.
  • Some GOP outside groups said that they have been trying to incorporate the allegations made by Tara Reade into their conversations with voters and overall campaigns against Democrats in competitive Senate races in states such as Alabama, Maine, North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, left, speaks as U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump listen before the H.R. 748, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, is signed in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 27, 2020.
Erin Schaff | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Republican groups are aiming to use the sexual assault allegations against apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in their battle with Democrats in key Senate races in this year's campaign.

The GOP organizations are arguing that Democrats are applying a different standard to Biden, who has vehemently denied the accusation that he assaulted a former Senate staffer in 1993, than they did to Justice Brett Kavanaugh a couple years ago when he was accused of sexual assault. Kavanaugh denied those claims, and he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. 

Some GOP outside groups told CNBC that they have been trying to incorporate the allegations brought against Biden by Tara Reade into their conversations with voters and overall campaigns against Democrats in competitive Senate races in states such as Alabama, Maine, North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa. Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate, but they have more incumbents up for reelection than Democrats do. 

These states have a mix of contests involving Democratic and Republican incumbents, along with some newcomers, fighting for Senate seats. Polls show that Democrats have a strong chance to flip many of the seats deemed toss-ups by analysis site Cook Political Report. 

The effort is largely being organized by the dark money GOP group The Article III Project, a 501(c)(4) organization, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Article III was formed after Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court and has been a staunch advocate of conservative judges being appointed to courts across the country. The group is not required to disclose its donors. 

Mike Davis, Article III Project's founder, said part of the reason they're accusing Democrats of hypocrisy is to excite the Republican base and possibly find a way to convince voters in line with Democrats to stay home.  

Democrats, including many lawmakers up for reelection in 2020, have continued to endorse and stand by Biden. Reade, in an interview with former NBC News and Fox News host Megyn Kelly, stood by her story and called for Biden to drop out of the presidential race.

A spokesman for Biden's campaign did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Kavanaugh standard

Two years ago, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school in the early 1980s. He repeatedly denied the allegations. 

Ford's accusations against Kavanaugh led to a partisan battle both on the Senate Judiciary Committee and later during the buildup to the full Senate vote, with many Democrats arguing that Ford should be believed in the midst of the #MeToo movement and that Kavanaugh shouldn't be confirmed. Republicans tried to make it seem that Democrats were only using Ford as a tool against their nominee without properly vetting her accusations. 

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., was the only Democrat in the chamber who voted to confirm Kavanaugh. 

The Article III Project's leaders are crafting a letter intended for Democrats running for Senate seats in Maine, Michigan, Alabama and Kentucky. The letter will call on them to treat Biden with the same standard the Republicans believe the Democrats applied to Kavanaugh.

"Do you believe all women, or just Republican accusers?" said the person familiar with the matter, in describing the letter. This person declined to be named as all of this has yet to be made public. 

Possible ad campaign

Article III has also been pitching this as a possible campaign issue to Republicans running for Senate and other outside groups, this person said. The other groups include the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that is defending the GOP majority in the U.S., and Heritage Action for America, a lobbying and advocacy organization that often pushes for conservative policy proposals while conducting heavy engagement with grassroots voters.

They are also moving toward developing an ad campaign that will target candidates who have endorsed Biden and opposed Kavanaugh, questioning whether they're applying a double standard. The ads will likely be either digital outlets or in print newspapers across the country, although a final decision has yet to be made. 

The tactic to use the Reade allegations comes as Republicans are trying to fend off a surge by the opposing party. Polls showing that Democrats are ahead of their Republican challengers in several of these races. A Real Clear Politics polling average has Biden above Trump by about 5 points. 

"I think it could be a real issue this fall with politicians like [Sara] Gideon as well as Mark Kelly in Arizona, who opposed Kavanaugh but now says he's sticking with Biden," said Steven Law, the CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to helping Republicans maintain their majority in the Senate. "How do you defend two totally different standards of dealing with these kinds of allegations, other than raw politics?"

When asked whether similar tactics would show up in Senate Leadership Fund ads, Law only would say "stay tuned." 

Law, who was once a chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also noted that this effort is about the Republican effort to ensure more conservative judges are appointed to the federal judiciary. 

Gideon, who is currently the favorite to win her Democratic primary and take on Republican Sen. Susan Collins in Maine, has said that the lawmaker's decision to support Kavanaugh's confirmation was one of the reasons she decided to run. Gideon has endorsed Biden and doesn't appear to have taken a public stance on Reade's allegations.

Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was severely wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, is taking on Sen. Martha McSally. While it doesn't appear he called out Kavanaugh over Ford's allegations, he did oppose Kavanaugh's nomination over his stances on gun rights. Kelly has said in the wake of the Reade allegations that all accusers should be heard but that he and Giffords are standing by Biden. 

"These are often very complicated issues and I think it's really important that the person who is making these allegations has the opportunity to state the case and have it looked into," Kelly recently told a local radio show. 

Sen. Doug Jones is preparing to fight off the eventual winner of the Alabama GOP primary. Jones, a Biden supporter, recently questioned the validity of Reade's comments in an interview with the Huffington Post. He had previously spoke up for Ford during the Kavanaugh fight.  

After CNBC interviewed the Senate Leadership Fund's Law, the group took aim at Jones in an email to supporters — a potential preview of how they will go after the Democrat, who is defending a seat in a reliably red state.

"So when a Democrat is accused of sexual assault, Jones believes the accused, but when a Republican-nominated judge is accused of sexual assault, Jones says we must believe the alleged victim?" the email said. 

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