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Key GOP senators react to Kavanaugh accusation

CNN talks to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to get their reaction to the accusations of alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Posted: Sep 18, 2018 5:57 AM
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 6:17 AM

For Republicans, this was supposed to be a done deal. Now, because of a decades-old allegation of sexual assault, Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination is very much in flux.

But that's not all that's at stake.

The Republican Party is suddenly facing a tough map to retain control not only of the House, but also, increasingly, the Senate.

Women are the reason.

The GOP, led by President Donald Trump, who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, doesn't speak the language of #MeToo.

Democrats, who tried to shed the Bill Clinton anvil and banished Sen. Al Franken, do. So does the increasingly critical swing-voting bloc of white, college-educated women.

That means the specter of next Monday's public hearing featuring Kavanaugh and his accuser, professor Christine Blasey Ford, answering questions from senators of both parties trying to score political points likely has very little immediate political upside for Republicans.

Women were always important to the nomination

From the beginning of his nomination process, well before Ford's accusation was made public, Kavanaugh knew how important women were to his fate, so he courted them.

He mentioned his wife, the teenage girls he coaches and his mother, who had a trailblazing law career, inspiring her son. The implicit (and simplistic) suggestion by Kavanaugh was that as a man who had a successful mom and two daughters, he would be fair to women from the bench.

The next phase will again revolve around women -- their testimony, their questioning and, ultimately, their votes. All of this will happen against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, which has seen men ousted from Congress, Hollywood studios and anchor chairs. It is a movement that has galvanized women to run in record numbers and move away from the GOP, complicating its favorable Senate map.

In Alabama, Doug Jones won women 57% to 41%, a margin largely powered by African-American women but also bolstered by white female college graduates, who gave him 45% of their votes.

Other polls show a similar dynamic possibly playing out in November: CNN's most recent generic ballot shows Democrats virtually tied among men, tied among white voters and winning women 59% to 36%. In two red states, the numbers reinforce the power of female voters in a way that should make Republicans nervous.

In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema leads Republican Rep. Martha McSally among women, 57% to 35% (Hillary Clinton won women in Arizona 49% to 45%), according to a new CNN poll. And in Tennessee, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn trails Democrat Phil Bredesen 58% to 37% among women.

Sensing an opportunity, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted out an email with the subject line, "50 days to help these women flip the Senate," a few hours after the Kavanaugh news broke.

The optics

In short, #MeToo isn't a motivating factor for the GOP. It is highly motivating for Democrats, who see a broad coalition of women as part of their party's identity and strength.

Imagine Monday's public hearing, where Ford will be questioned by a panel of all-male GOP senators and a much more diverse panel of Democratic senators.

It won't be a good look. And, at least for GOPers, it will be reminiscent of 1991's Clarence Thomas hearings, where an entirely male panel questioned Anita Hill about her allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas, who won confirmation by a narrow margin. The hearings reverberated politically, angering women and powering them to run.

That dynamic is already at work for the midterms. The hearings will only intensify it.

During his opening statement for his confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh recalled his mother practicing her cases at the dinner table.

"Her trademark line was: 'Use your common sense. What rings true? What rings false?' " he recalled.

These will be the very questions senators will have to ask themselves. And voters -- particularly female voters -- all around the country will be asking as well.

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