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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Brett Kavanaugh and midterm voter enthusiasm

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter from the Cook Political Report sit down with Lisa Desjardins to discuss how the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight may motivate voters to go to the polls in November, some robust midterm election fundraising by Democrats and President Trump’s announcement of a new trade pact.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    We turn now to the politics of the midterm elections.

    The debate around Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation raises questions about its potential effect on voters as they get ready to cast their ballots in November.

    Lisa Desjardins has more.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We have seen Democratic enthusiasm mounting this election season. But could we see a rise in Republican motivation amidst the brutal battle over confirming Judge Kavanaugh?

    Who else could answer those questions better than our own Politics Monday panel, the fabulous Amy Walter The Cook Political Report and — I'm sorry — Tamara Keith of NPR.

    I did you guys in the wrong order. I'm sorry.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amy Walter:

    That's OK.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm a fill-in here on this one.

    I want to actually start, but can we just take a collective deep breath on behalf of my personal blood pressure and perhaps the nation's psyche before we start talking about Judge Kavanaugh?

    And can we start in this topic by looking at — there was — the Quinnipiac poll found, of course, Americans are split on this. But there's some really interesting paradox, I think, for Americans. More Americans believe Christine Blasey Ford, but also a near majority believe that there's a smear campaign against Judge Kavanaugh.

    Amy, America is conflicted here. What does polling like that do when we're about to go to an election? What does it tell us about voters?

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I think what we learned from this hearing is that Americans are as polarized on this issue as they are about pretty much any other issue that's put in front of them.

    Whether you're a Democrat or you're a Republican, your decision on how you feel about this is driven as much by your partisanship than almost anything else. A poll that I saw over the weekend by the folks at Huffington Post and YouGov found that, again, not surprisingly, men who supported Donald Trump overwhelmingly said that they could identify with what Brett Kavanaugh was going through.

    Women who voted for Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly said that they identified with Christine Blasey Ford. But I think, fundamentally, this question about who does it — who is it going to help or hurt in the midterm elections…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

  • Amy Walter:

    … Democratic candidates, Republican candidates, is this about the enthusiasm advantage, I think we have to remember a couple of things.

    The first is, in 2016, we know that the Supreme Court was a big issue for Republican voters. And the thinking among a lot of Republicans was, this is how Donald Trump won. Skeptical Republican voters held their nose. They didn't really like Trump, but they wanted the Supreme Court.

    This year, all the polling that I have seen thus far since the hearings took place, so at this moment, we're seeing increased Democratic enthusiasm, higher than what Republicans on the issue of the Supreme Court, how important the issue is for their vote.

    And, finally, I think, when all is said and done, the issue that drives this election is still going to be Donald Trump. How do you feel about Donald Trump is going to be much more important in determining your vote than how you feel about this hearing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Tam, Democrats now — you heard Yamiche talk about this earlier — are raising more and more questions about, did Brett Kavanaugh lie last week? And they're raising questions about his drinking habits, for example.

    We're seeing witnesses who support what he says, counterwitnesses who say, no, he was kind of a drinker or not.

    Is this a change in Democratic strategy, both on this confirmation and politically?

  • Tamara Keith:

    There has been a shift in what people are focusing on. It's not clear whether this is a strategic shift or not.

    But, certainly, there is more focus on whether he was truthful in his testimony. And the area where there's most question about his truthfulness is when it comes to his drinking.

    Brett Kavanaugh on a number of occasions was sort of pressed on his drinking in high school and college, and was either evasive in his answers, sort of downplayed it at times, or pushed back on a couple of senators at times, asking them how much they drank.

    And so President Trump was asked about that today in the White House press briefing. And President Trump sort of incorrectly said, well, Brett Kavanaugh, in his testimony, said that he had a drinking problem when he was younger, which is not what Kavanaugh had said.

    But…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He was reflecting the amount of times it came up.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, because it came up frequently.

    The White House realizes that this is an issue. They are pushing back. They're insisting that Kavanaugh basically admitted to everything, except blacking out. And they're also now pushing out statements from witnesses from college who say, no, no, no, I was his roommate. And that other roommate who said something else is wrong.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy, who does this help in the midterms?

    If Brett Kavanaugh gets on the Supreme Court — Mitch McConnell says a vote is going to happen this week.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Does that help Republicans in the midterms?

  • Amy Walter:

    I don't know.

    I mean, again, it's the conventional wisdom, right, that they are so fired up about this, not simply because of the importance that they put on the Supreme Court, but because they had to unify together to fight off what they see as a smear campaign by Democrats.

    But then we hear from Democrats and even some Republicans who say, but while it may help Republicans in some of these red states, especially in Senate seats, it's really going to hurt Republican candidates in these swing suburban areas where women are already breaking decidedly against Republicans, against the president, including independent women.

    Those are really the key voters here that strategists are looking to at this point to determine where the House goes. And I don't think that they're — they're going to turn to the side of Republicans on this issue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Another factor maybe in where the House goes is the money.

    And we saw Politico report today they did analysis that they said that Democrats have raised something like $35 million just in August alone for the Democratic candidates.

    Tam, what does this mean? Does this — does that mean more votes for Democrats? Does it just mean that they want to put in more money? What does it mean?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, it does mean that there are a lot of Democrats with checkbooks who are very interested in a lot of races all over the country.

    And there are — also, Democratic candidates have these incredibly viral ads that they have put out that has gone viral on social media, have generated support. I mean, you hear people — because I cover politics, people ask me, like, what do you think of this race in Kentucky? And I'm like, wait, what's going on here?

    There is a huge amount of interest, and there is a huge amount of enthusiasm. You see that in the money. You see that in the number of people who showed up for a Beto O'Rourke rally in Texas. You see the energy and enthusiasm in a lot of places.

    Now, Republicans would say that they also have a lot of energy. And they do, just not as much as the Democrats at this time.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes.

    I mean, I'm talking to consultants on both sides, many of whom have been doing this for a long time. And they have never seen this amount of money. More important, they have never seen an incumbent, an incumbent party get outspent the way Democrats are outspending Republicans in these congressional races. I mean, it's — it's a mind-boggling number.

    And this is why, when we talk about why is the House in play, the House is in play because the amount of enthusiasm that Democrats have is translating in all these different ways. It turned into, one, enthusiasm for Democratic voters, candidates, who said, I'm going to run for office, including a bunch of people who had never run for office before.

    And now the money, what it's done is, it's taken a playing field that was really narrow, and it was structurally very challenging for Democrats, because there are only 25, 30 seats in play, and it expanded that universe to now we have a universe right now of about 60 Republican seats that are in danger.

    That is why…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's an amazing number.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's what the — that's what enthusiasm does.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's an amazing number. My spreadsheet cannot handle any more races, OK?

  • Amy Walter:

    No. Sorry.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Just want to let you know.

    All right, let me ask what for us political wonks I think would be a fun question. I feel like the universe has been dominated by just a handful of stories.

    But let me ask you what political stories are we not talking about that we should be?

    Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    One, a temporary budget passed, a spending measure, and there wasn't a massive fight. Nothing crazy happened. It just passed. The president signed it. No drama, no drama, which is wild, that there was no drama.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amazing.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Also, this is a small thing, but there's only been one — there was — in the month of September, there was only one televised White House press briefing. Daily White House press briefing only happened on one day in the entire month of September.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Briefly, Amy.

  • Amy Walter:

    I do think this money is absolutely going to be the story of the 2018 campaign.

    The question for Democrats is, can they replicate this when it's no longer just simply about ousting Donald Trump or his party in the midterm elections?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And when they might have one candidate for 2020.

  • Amy Walter:

    That's right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thank you very much.

    Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Tamara Keith of NPR, thank you both.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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