AP NEWS

Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate battle fuels voter anger

October 14, 2018 GMT

ST. LOUIS The incredibly close Senate race in Missouri has turned into a contest of who can keep stoking their base’s anger over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Political prognosticators in Washington have said they don’t see a Kavanaugh effect on November’s elections, but those on the ground including the voters say it’s palpable.

In deep-red southwestern Missouri, the anger was directed at Claire McCaskill and her fellow Senate Democrats who berated Justice Kavanaugh throughout September with uncorroborated charges of sexual misconduct.

“She is sucked into the Democratic way. The Kavanaugh thing is a prime example. That wouldn’t be the will of the Missouri people,” said Tom Kissee, a Republican and co-owner of the Springfield Livestock Marketing Center, a cattle auction.

A 68-year-old cattleman at the auction said the mistreatment of Justice Kavanaugh was the reason he was going to vote.

The cattleman, who didn’t want to give his name, said he voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and was disappointed by the president’s conduct in office, including his Twitter habit. But the Kavanaugh issue, especially the wild liberal protests after his confirmation, put him firmly behind Ms. McCaskill’s Republican challenger, Josh Hawley.

“That doesn’t sit well with anyone in southwest Missouri,” he said. “Kavanaugh is going to get people to the polls.”

Republican strategists say there are plenty of voters like the cattleman those who were lukewarm about turning out this year but are now enthusiastic.

It goes well beyond Missouri.

In races from Texas to Tennessee, Republican Senate candidates’ poll numbers have risen over the past few weeks. Conservatives are telling pollsters they are highly interested in the outcome of the election and won’t let anything deter them from casting ballots.

In Tennessee, the Democratic Senate candidate struggled to come up with an answer for whether he would have backed Justice Kavanaugh before settling on a tepid “yes.”

Even in states where Republicans aren’t particularly competitive, such as Michigan, pollsters say they see evidence of a Kavanaugh effect at least blunting what had been an overwhelming Democratic advantage.

Democrats are just as angry over the Kavanaugh confirmation, though they were already motivated to vote.

“A lot of women are already energized because of the president,” said Linda Hultgren, 64, a retired medical lab technician who lives in a St. Louis suburb.

For her, the accusations of sexual misconduct against Justice Kavanaugh dredged up similar claims about Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Mrs. Hultgren, a Democrat, was planning to vote for Ms. McCaskill, but she called the Kavanaugh confirmation a “pretty important” motivation for her.

“There should have been an investigation,” she said.

Justice Kavanaugh was hit with accusations of sexual misconduct during his high school and college years. He vehemently denied all of the claims and, after suffering through extra hearings and undergoing an additional FBI background check, no contemporaneous evidence surfaced to corroborate the accusations.

“The Kavanaugh thing doesn’t matter to me,” said Stephanie Mullens, a 37-year-old hairstylist in St. Louis County who was already firmly behind Ms. McCaskill and said she does believe the uncorroborated accusations.

“Past behavior does reflect who you are,” she said. “Unless you apologize and change your ways, you have not changed in our eyes.”

Mr. Hawley used Sunday’s political talk shows to stoke his base against what he called “mob behavior.”

“I do think the debacle with Justice Kavanaugh, what the Senate Democrats did in that case, is hugely motivating to Missouri voters,” Mr. Hawley said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They cannot believe the conduct of these Senate Democrats, they cannot believe this smear campaign that they launched and, by the way, how they dragged [accuser Christine Blasey] Ford through the mud as well.”

He noted Democrats’ reactions to the Kavanaugh confirmation, which included protesters banging on the Supreme Court’s doors.

“Now this mob behavior that we’re seeing all over the country, it is motivating folks,” he said.

The dueling outrage helped keep the race neck and neck as it has been for months.

The race was a virtual tie, with Mr. Hawley leading by 1 point, 45 percent to 44 percent, in a Reuters/Ipsos/University of Virginia Center for Politics poll released last week.

The poll was conducted after the sex abuse hearing and after Ms. McCaskill declared her intention to vote against Justice Kavanaugh, though she said her decision was based on his views of “dark money” in elections rather than on the sexual misconduct allegations.

⦁ Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.