WAITING FOR PAYDAY
Republicans Are Praying for a Kavanaugh Bounce, but It’s Proving a Bit Elusive
In upstate New York, voters on both sides are animated about the Supreme Court battle. But it’s not clear if it will change any votes.
WALTON, New York—The day after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, Alice Kane was pissed.
A 74-year-old retired teacher, she stood in the foyer of the Walton Theatre on Sunday night on her way out to a poorly lit street in this small town in southeastern New York. Her anger, in that moment, was directed at the Republican-led Senate for what she felt was its irresponsible handling of judicial nominations that preceded even Kavanaugh’s.
“When Mitch McConnell, in my opinion, unconstitutionally said that a president did not have the right to appoint a Supreme Court judge for 8-10 months, he should have been impeached,” Kane told The Daily Beast, referring to the Senate majority leader’s stance on the appointment of Merrick Garland during the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency. “The president has the right, in fact he has the duty, to appoint somebody and the Senate had the duty to advise and consent.”
Kane is the type of voter the Republican Party could use if it wants to hold on to control in the House. She resides in one of the cycle’s higher-profile toss-up districts and has a history of backing Republicans. She voted GOP until President Trump burst onto the scene in 2016. And she’s extremely politically active, having once left the hospital to go cast a ballot.
But this year, in part because of both Kavanaugh and Trump, she is not returning to her party roots. Kane says she will not back GOP incumbent Rep. John Faso (R-NY), who is trying to hold on to his seat in New York’s 19th Congressional District.
“I wouldn’t vote for Faso,” she said, citing a conversation she had with the congressman in which he made it seem to her that he would stand up to Trump. “If the man turned into Lazarus asking for that one drop of water, I’d say, ‘Ask the president, he’s got a lot of it.’”
While the confirmation of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has clearly elated Republican voters and led to an apparent swelling of conservative enthusiasm in critical Senate races across the country, the fallout is not nearly as easy to parcel in places like New York’s 19th, a district that voted for Obama twice but swung to Trump.
Here, a close House race between Faso and Democratic candidate Antonio Delgado has been waged along more provincial policy and political lines, from the future of the Affordable Care Act to environmental protections for the Hudson Valley. The Kavanaugh nomination was a veritable political grenade, lobbed into that already tense contest, with no clear indication—even for the candidates themselves—of the damage it may do.
“It’s a polarized political environment as it is across the country,” Faso told The Daily Beast in an interview, as he made the rounds Sunday at the Ulster County Italian American Foundation festival in Kingston. “I think Republican and conservative and swing voters that are more conservative-oriented are very motivated over the Kavanaugh thing.”
Wearing a dark blue U.S. Coast Guard hat to shield himself from the unseasonably hot October sun, Faso said that in the last week voters with whom he spoke had been energized by what they saw in Washington. He was encouraged by what he heard from his supporters, including one man who was happy with the result but suggested that George Soros, the liberal mega-donor and conservative boogeyman, may have paid for the lie detector test taken by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school.
“I don’t know about that,” Faso demurred in response.
The congressman described the left as “so animated by vitriol and hate” and said protests against Kavanaugh involved “screaming” and “yelling” and “showed a dark side to what I call the totalitarian left.”
Republicans are hopeful that a majority of the electorate see it the same way. And they insist that the early data suggests voters do. GOP operatives working on House campaigns said they have seen a 418-percent rise in money raised in the first five days of October compared to the same time period in September.
But the data points go both ways too. ActBlue, an online fundraising tool for Democratic candidates, saw its largest day of fundraising ever on September 30, just days after the Kavanaugh hearings. On that day alone, the website saw $16.8 million contributed with 310,000 individual contributions.
And in the massive 19th District—the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, as both candidates put it—no one is entirely clear if Kavanaugh’s confirmation, for all the anger and enthusiasm it generated, will impact actual votes.
What is clear is that Delgado is more comfortable keeping the conversation on other matters. A former Rhodes scholar who graduated from Harvard Law School, he is a first-time candidate who often discusses his upbringing in Schenectady and his parents’ jobs at General Electric. And at the Walton town hall, he devoted all of a couple sentences to the Supreme Court fracas, saying that “incredibly partisan blind rage” had “swept up a kindhearted courageous woman and sort of steamrolled her as if she wasn’t even human.”
Notably, none of the questions he fielded from the mostly white, older attendees had anything to do with Kavanaugh. In fact, the most nuanced policy back-and-forth was with a would-be constituent about why Delgado doesn’t fully back Medicare for All. (He explained he’s for a government-operated public option for health insurance coverage at this point).
Republicans seem content not to press the Kavanaugh matter much either. Part of it may be that House members have no actual say on Supreme Court nominees. Part of it may be that the animating issue for conservative voters—at least according to Faso himself—was not that they desperately wanted Kavanaugh on the Court; but, rather, that they didn’t like the way he was treated by Senate Democrats.
“People don’t read judicial decisions and things like that,” Faso told The Daily Beast.
But it also may be because Republicans have chosen to attack Delgado in sharply biographical ways, with outside groups trying to tar the Democrat with suggestive ads about his brief stint as a “big-city rapper.” Though the ads have been decried as dog whistles but louder, Faso called them “provocative” but “totally fair” and dismissed any suggestion that they were racist.
And so, Kavanaugh remains a hot topic, but one still not quite lighting up all congressional races. Alice Kane may be frustrated, but Delgado has other matters he has to address too. Faso, he claimed, wanted to have a conversation “with some guy he creates. Some far-left radical anti-American boogeyman.”
“Unfortunately for him,” Delgado concluded, “I’m not that guy.”