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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Senators Begin Processing the FBI Report
      •  Kavanaugh Critics Mount Final Push
      •  Heitkamp Will Vote against Kavanaugh
      •  Kavanaugh Is Closing the Enthusiasm Gap
      •  Democrats Will Use Republican Tactics If They Win the House
      •  Keith Ellison May Step Down from the DNC
      •  Cook Political Report Changes Ratings in 12 Races
      •  Today's Senate Polls

PW logo Murkowski Will Be Marked ‘Present’ on Kavanaugh
Grassley Says Judiciary Workload Discourages Women
Why Would Anyone Want to Be Illinois Governor?
Extra Bonus Quote of the Day
Collins Will Vote for Kavanaugh
Bonus Quote of the Day

Senators Begin Processing the FBI Report

The FBI has now delivered the results of its investigation to the Senate. From early reports, it appears that the Bureau did a very cursory investigation, most likely on orders from the White House. As many as 40 sources who knew Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were not interviewed. Numerous people who called the FBI's tip line were basically ignored. Debbie Ramirez, who has said Kavanaugh once waved his penis at her, gave the FBI a list of 20 people who could shed light on her allegation. None of them were interviewed. In addition, Julie Swetnick has said Kavanaugh spiked the punch at parties she attended so boys could gang rape girls, including herself. She is a contemporary witness and the FBI didn't think it worthwhile to even talk to her or give her a lie detector test. The "one week" investigation also lasted just five days, two of which were weekend days. Democrats are already calling the investigation a sham.

Two key Republican senators, Jeff Flake (AZ) and Susan Collins haven't said how they are voting, but responded positively to the report, which has been kept under lock and key to prevent the public from seeing it. Each senator was given a one-hour time slot to read it in a secure facility. Collins said the report "appears to be very thorough." Flake said that he's seen "no corroborating information" that would support Christine Blasey Ford's testimony. The other Republican senator who is undecided is Lisa Murkowski (AK), who said she didn't want to comment until she has read the report, and claimed late on Thursday she was still "reviewing" it.

Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) scheduled a cloture vote for Friday morning, which will cap the time left for debate on the nomination and allow it to proceed to a final vote. The cloture vote is likely to be something like 53-47, but Friday's tally is not necessarily indicative of what will happen when the actual nomination is voted upon. In theory, the final vote could happen as early as Saturday, but Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) has already announced he's not available then because he will be attending his daughter's wedding in his home state. If McConnell thinks that he can't get by without Daines' vote, then the confirmation will likely be pushed to Sunday morning, with Daines taking a chartered flight to get back to Washington at the earliest possible moment. It is remarkable that it cannot even wait until Monday. Inasmuch as hours of credible testimony about an alleged assault by Kavanaugh, given in the Senate chamber, seem to have had no impact on the Judge's confirmation, one wonders exactly what the Majority Leader is worried might come to light during the extra 24 hours. Maybe the Russians have some kinky videotapes or something. (V & Z)

Kavanaugh Critics Mount Final Push

The fact that Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Jeff Flake, among others, have not declared their intentions means that, to borrow a line from Yogi Berra, "It ain't over till it's over." To that end, quite a few folks around the country are doing everything they can to turn up the pressure on the fence-sitters.

There are, for example, op-eds in newspapers across the country urging a "no" vote on the nominee. The Washington Post's entry, declares:

We have not opposed a Supreme Court nominee, liberal or conservative, since Robert H. Bork in 1987. We believe presidents are entitled to significant deference if they nominate well-qualified people within the broad mainstream of judicial thought. When President Trump named Mr. Kavanaugh, he seemed to be such a person: an accomplished judge whom any conservative president might have picked. But given Republicans' refusal to properly vet Mr. Kavanaugh, and given what we have learned about him during the process, we now believe it would be a serious blow to the court and the nation if he were confirmed.

Kavanaugh actually penned his own op-ed on Thursday, in the Wall Street Journal, insisting that he will be an "independent, impartial judge" if seated on the Supreme Court. Of course, Kavanaugh's message might be a bit more meaningful if he did not consistently choose right-wing media outlets as his platform. Although no matter what platform he uses, nobody (probably not even Kavanaugh himself) seriously believes he will be independent or impartial. His well-established devotion to the conservative worldview and to GOP politics is why the Democrats badly want him to be rejected, and why the Republicans are willing to do anything to get him. If he was even in the ballpark of "independent" and "impartial"—like, say, Sandra Day O'Connor, or Potter Stewart, or Harry Blackmun—neither side would feel nearly as strongly as they do.

Anyhow, in addition to the anti-Kavanaugh op-eds are the anti-Kavanaugh petitions. It is hard to imagine those having much impact, either, particularly in these days when it's so easy for just about anyone to put together one of these things using, or, or other such sites. However, it is at least possible that a senator or two might take note of the letter signed by nearly 2,500 law professors urging that Kavanaugh be rejected. Their carefully-worded concerns are not rooted in his politics, but in the worrisome temperament and "lack of commitment to judicious inquiry" that he has demonstrated in recent weeks. Included among the signatories are 34 faculty members from Kavanaugh's alma mater (Yale), and 40 colleagues from his current teaching post (Harvard).

Some of the pressure is being focused on one particular senator. For example, a group of Maine activists have started a crowd funding project and raised almost $2 million for Sen. Susan Collins' (R) Democratic opponent in 2020 if she votes for Kavanaugh. That is a lot of money for a Maine race. Collins denounced the project and the activists, but she undoubtedly knows that $2 million isn't worth any less just because it's gotten a dirty look from a U.S. Senator. Similarly, 350 female attorneys from Alaska have published a letter insisting that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) vote "no" on Kavanaugh. There are 1,619 female members of the bar in Alaska, so that means that nearly 25% of the state's women attorneys have signed this specific letter.

The thing that may have the greatest possibility of influencing the fence-sitting senators, however, is a single voice. If we sit back and think for a moment about what living person is very possibly in the best position to judge Kavanaugh's general fitness, we would presumably be looking for someone who has a reputation for being fair and not overly-partisan, and with significant expertise in the law and in the operation of the Supreme Court. Say, someone who actually served on the Court for more than a quarter of a century, like...John Paul Stevens. Although he drifted leftward during his 35 years of service, Stevens is a registered Republican and a Nixon appointee who voted with the conservative wing of the Court a little bit more 60% of the time. So, nobody can claim he's just a Democratic hack. The former justice once spoke well of Kavanaugh, but on Thursday he said the nominee's performance during last week's hearings changed his mind. Referring to the concerns that have been raised about Kavanaugh's evasiveness, lack of truthfulness, and outbursts during his appearance before the Judiciary Committee, Stevens said, "I think there's merit to that criticism, and I think the senators should really pay attention to that."

The odds are none of these things will have an impact, though you really have to think that Stevens' remarks would give a senator pause if it wasn't for the hyper-partisan, "win at all costs" environment in which we now live. In any event, it will all be over soon, one way or another. (Z)

Heitkamp Will Vote against Kavanaugh

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has announced she will vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. She said she believes Christine Blasey Ford and the many other women who have told her they were also victims of sexual assault. Perhaps not coincidentally, the NRSC has just canceled $87,000 worth of TV ads it had reserved in North Dakota. This could be interpreted as a sign its leaders think the race is over and their horse won. The Democrats haven't given up yet and have $900,000 of ads scheduled in the coming weeks. It could well be that Heitkamp's decision to vote against Kavanaugh means that she realizes that she is not going to make it, and she would like to go out with her head held high, at least. Her brother recently said: "She may lose. But in the morning when she's brushing her teeth, she needs to like the person she sees."

Heitkamp is popular in the state, but the brutal fact is that Donald Trump's approval rating there is 64%. That's tough for a Democrat to beat. Recent polls have put her more than 10 points behind Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and she is definitely the most endangered incumbent Democrat. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) comes from a state that is even more pro-Trump than North Dakota, but Manchin is a very clever politician who is reasonably liberal on health care, unions, and pocketbook issues while being conservative on cultural issues. He is a better fit for West Virginia than Heitkamp is for North Dakota, which is probably why he is leading in most polls. (V)

Kavanaugh Is Closing the Enthusiasm Gap

For the past two years, several dozen special elections have shown that Democrats are far more enthusiastic about voting in the midterms than Republicans. The confirmation battle of Brett Kavanaugh may be changing that. Republican pollster Robert Blizzard said he is seeing increased enthusiasm among Republicans who were previously apathetic. Other Republican pollsters, strategists, and party officials confirm this. They say the drama surrounding Kavanaugh is helping close the enthusiasm gap. Another Republican pollster, Whit Ayres, said of Republican voters: "They're pretty upset about how Kavanaugh has been treated."

Remarkably, a sizable portion of the GOP bump appears to be coming from Republican women. It's not so easy to tease out numerically, but there is strong anecdotal evidence that a lot of right-leaning women who are typically somewhat apathetic about politics (particularly in midterm elections) are now fired up to vote the GOP ticket. How can this be? One possibility is that they are pushing back against the narrative about how women are "supposed" to feel about Kavanaugh. A similar dynamic underlies the motivations of some black members of the GOP, some of whom resent being told how they should think about politics.

A tangible sign of the heightened level of enthusiasm among Republicans is that low-dollar donations to the NRCC are up 17% over a month ago and the amounts being donated are also up. It is very likely that Republicans who don't like Trump do like getting conservatives appointed to the courts, and this battle reminds them of that.

However, if Kavanaugh is confirmed this weekend or early next week, Democrats will be furious up to the election, but Republican energy may wane because a major goal has been achieved. If that is true, then the confirmation vote may actually be coming a bit too early for the GOP. (V & Z)

Democrats Will Use Republican Tactics If They Win the House

In 2015, House Republicans changed the rules to allow 14 committee chairs to issue unilateral subpoenas. Then they changed them again to allow committee staff to haul private citizens and government officials to Capitol Hill and make them testify under oath, even if no members of Congress are present. They may come to rue these decisions if Democrats take over the House.

The Democrats who are in line to chair key committees are already charting an aggressive strategy of using these powers to the hilt. They are planning to tackle corruption in the administration as well as other misconduct such as nepotism and conflicts of interest. They have already drawn up 150 subpoenas that they will issue if they get the power to do so. Just as one example of an area the Democrats will examine if they take over is the financial ties between Donald Trump and his family and Deutsche Bank. After Trump's six bankruptcies, other banks wouldn't lend Trump money anymore, but Deutsche Bank did. Democrats want to know why and whether there was some kind of quid pro quo.

Republicans will surely complain about a flood of subpoenas, but Democrats will then point out that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the former chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued over 100 subpoenas during his 4-year term. And that's just one chair among 14. The Democrats will undoubtedly match that quickly if they get the chance. (V)

Keith Ellison May Step Down from the DNC

The last time the Democratic National Committee chose a new leader, it was an establishment (i.e., Hillary wing) candidate in Tom Perez versus a progressive (i.e., Bernie wing) candidate in Keith Ellison. Perez won out, but in an effort to stop the already frayed relationship between the two wings from getting worse, Ellison was named as deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, effectively making him second-in-command.

Now, however, Ellison has become something of a problem for the Party, since he has been accused of domestic abuse. The nature of the charges (they came from a third party, and the alleged video evidence of the abuse has now allegedly been lost) is somewhat different from the charges against, say, Brett Kavanaugh. However, we live in a world without much room for subtlety, and so the continued service of Ellison in a high-ranking position in the Democratic Party has been used by Republicans to make the case that the blue team is a bunch of hypocrites. It's also made a fair portion of the Democratic base unhappy.

Given the DNC leadership's shaky relationship with the Bernie wing of the Party, not to mention that Ellison is both black and Muslim, they dare not force him out, regardless of how much of an anchor around their necks he becomes. So, Perez & Co. must be relieved to learn that Ellison is thinking about stepping down voluntarily. He did not connect his decision to the abuse allegations, of course; he said that he may conclude that he needs to devote his full attention to the current election, and then to the job he hopes to win on November 6 (Minnesota AG). Politicians generally don't say such things openly until they are dangerously close to becoming reality, so the odds are good that Ellison officially exits in the next week or two. (Z)

Cook Political Report Changes Ratings in 12 Races

The folks at the nonpartisan Cook Political report updated their assessments of 12 races, just five weeks before the midterms, and there is good news for partisans on both sides of the aisle. To start, they changed their ratings in eight House races, all of them in the Democrats' direction. Here's the breakdown, listed from most Republican-leaning district to least:

District PVI Member Old rating New rating
UT-04 R+13 Mia Love Lean Republican Toss-Up
MI-03 R+6 Justin Amash (R) Solid Republican Likely Republican
KS-03 R+4 Kevin Yoder (R) Toss-Up Lean Democrat
MI-11 R+4 Open (currently held by Dave Trott, R) Toss-Up Lean Democrat
NY-21 R+4 Elise Stefanik (R) Likely Republican Lean Republican
PA-17 R+3 Both Conor Lamb (D) and Keith Rothfus (R) due to redistricting Lean Democrat Likely Democrat
NY-24 D+3 John Katko (R) Likely Republican Lean Republican
FL-26 D+6 Carlos Curbelo (R) Lean Republican Toss-Up

Yoder, in particular, just saw over $1 million in advertising planned by the NRCC get canceled, so he's now on his own, and the party thinks he's pretty close to a dead man walking.

The good news for the red team, meanwhile, relates to the other chamber, where Cook has moved four contests, three in the GOP direction:

State PVI Senator Old rating New rating
Nebraska R+14 Deb Fischer (R) Likely Republican Solid Republican
Montana R+11 Jon Tester (D) Lean Democrat Toss-Up
Ohio R+3 Sherrod Brown (D) Lean Democrat Likely Democrat
New Jersey D+7 Bob Menendez (D) Likely Democrat Lean Democrat

Two of these four races (Ohio and Nebraska) are all but over, and we are still dubious that a state as blue as New Jersey is willing to elect a Republican senator, particularly given that Bob Hugin has some of the same corruption-type issues that Menendez does. That means that the most significant of these four ratings is the one in Montana, a state that the blue team must hold in order to have any hope of retaking the Senate. If North Dakota is a lost cause for the Democrats, as it is increasingly appearing, their only realistic path to a Senate majority is to hold all of their other seats and flip Nevada, Arizona, and Tennessee, a tall order at best. Yes, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) could beat Sen. Ted. Cruz (R-TX), but that is the longest of longshots. (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Surprise. Florida is going to be a cliff hanger. Who knew? (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 47% Rick Scott 46% Sep 24 Sep 27 Mason Dixon

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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