Kavanaugh Drama Risks Driving Moderates, Women Away From GOP

The sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is undercutting one of the GOP’s strongest issues for its base and risks further eroding support from women and independent voters who will be crucial to deciding which party controls Congress after the November elections.

Republicans have been treading carefully in dealing with the accusation by college professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh attacked her while they both were in high school. That’s been evident in the careful statements from President Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers as they try to give Republican voters the conservative court majority that they want while not antagonizing women, who polls show already heavily favor Democrats in the election.

Trump, who is known for delivering harsh rebukes to critics, had a mild reaction Wednesday morning as uncertainty swirled about whether Ford would testify at a Judiciary Committee hearing next week.

Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh already had become a flashpoint for the November election, highlighting some of the nation’s widest cultural divides. Polls show voters as split on Kavanaugh as they are on a variety of other political issues. A Sept. 10 Quinnipiac University national poll released before the sexual assault allegations were made public found that 41 percent of registered voters supported Kavanaugh and 42 percent opposed.

There is some peril for Democrats as well. Along with the gender gap, Republicans are suffering from an “enthusiasm gap” compared with Democratic voters heading into the midterms, said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who has worked on state and national campaigns. But that could be closed if the party’s base views the 11th-hour allegations as an unfair tactic by Democrats.

“There is a risk for Republicans if they appear to be insensitive to the accusations, especially among suburban women,” he said. “But if this plays out as an ambush set up by Democrats, it will help Republicans in getting voters to turn out."

The political battle will play out in a handful of Senate contests on the ballot in November, but the impact may be wider in House races.

Read more from Steven T. Dennis and Erik Wasson at Bloomberg

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