Doug Jones is fresh off winning a high-profile Senate race. But all of a sudden he’s being besieged by brutal attack ads all over again.
The Alabama Democrat is one of a half-dozen senators on the receiving end of millions of dollars in ad spending over the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh that heavily favors Republicans trying to confirm him to liberals trying to stop him. Conservatives have run more than $7.5 million in television ads thus far compared with approximately $1.3 million from liberals in the fight over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, according to spending analyzed by POLITICO and Advertising Analytics.
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“It’s silly. It’s a waste of time,” said Jones, who is deliberating his first Supreme Court nomination. “It’s just a sad state of affairs when a judicial nomination becomes a political campaign. I’m seeing myself more on TV than I did last year when I ran.”
The millions in ad spending focusing on Jones and fellow Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) shows that Republicans continue to have a significant tactical edge in the latest judicial wars.
The money disadvantage is yet another handicap for Democrats who appear unable to unilaterally stop Kavanaugh’s confirmation and adds increased pressure on the most vulnerable senators to fold on the nominee.
Led by the Judicial Crisis Network, conservatives have for years outgunned liberals in the increasingly big-money advocacy that surrounds Supreme Court nominations, most recently helping to block Merrick Garland and confirm Neil Gorsuch, and pressing to approve Brett Kavanaugh. Liberals are making concerted efforts to match conservatives’ might, with Demand Justice spending nearly $1 million in ads and pledging a total of $5 million for the anti-Kavanaugh effort.
“It was always going to be true that the right would outspend the left in this fight. JCN, the Kochs and the NRA will still drastically outspend our side, but it will probably be closer to 6- or 7-to-1 instead of the 20-to-1 edge you saw on Gorsuch,” said Brian Fallon, a former aide to Chuck Schumer and press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign who leads Demand Justice. “Their spending hasn’t succeeded in making Kavanaugh popular, though.”
Indeed, Kavanaugh’s opponents are hanging onto hope they can defeat the nominee by pointing out that he has received no popularity bump despite a national and state-specific ad campaign and grass-roots activities aimed at pushing his confirmation. Just 37 percent of those polled by CNN want him confirmed, the lowest number since Robert Bork’s nomination was defeated in the Senate in 1987.
Yet Republicans say the money advantage from their allies is making a difference, partially by getting voters in conservative states to tune in to how their incumbent senators — many of them Democrats in tight reelection bids — are voting. According to an estimate from NARAL-Pro Choice America, conservative groups have pledged more than $30 million in total spending on behalf of Kavanaugh, much of it on the airwaves.
“Conservative special interest groups are spending millions to get Judge Kavanaugh on the bench because they know he’s hostile to women’s reproductive rights, as well as protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “If they weren’t so sure that he would push their agenda through the Supreme Court, they wouldn’t be backing him with their wallets.”
Though Democrats like Jones, Manchin, Donnelly and Heitkamp say ad campaigns won’t influence their votes on Kavanaugh, the pro-Kavanaugh ads could hurt them politically. The Judicial Crisis Network, for one, says it will pull its ads if those senators announce support for Kavanaugh. All but Jones are up for reelection this fall and supported Gorsuch last year.
“The Supreme Court and courts in general are important to a lot of voters. And the perception of how people are dealing with the nomination … could well influence the voters,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip and a former chairman of the Republican Senate campaign arm.
JCN has spent more than $5 million on television ads overall, $2.1 million dollars of it spent in states targeting Senate Democrats. Some JCN ads flashed on the screen images of Democratic Sens. Corey Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at an anti-Kavanaugh rally and asked: Will a senator like Doug Jones “join radical liberal senators” in his Supreme Court vote?
JCN also spent money on ads running at airports and on MSNBC, poking at the Democratic Party’s hard-line stance against the nominee, and the group says generous its spending will not slow as the confirmation battle moves forward.
“Our budget for Gorsuch was 10 million [dollars],” said Carrie Severino, JCN’s chief counsel. “And we expect we will meet or surpass that given how contentious we have seen things becoming so far.”
JCN, founded in 2005, is one of four groups on the right bombarding swing-state Democrats with television ads in recent weeks. The conservative groups convene regularly for conference calls to update one another and coordinate their efforts and have launched a bus tour and phone banks, and otherwise pledged resources to the effort.
The NRA has spent more than $1 million thus far airing television ads on Kavanaugh and America First Policies, a pro-Trump group, has spent $850,000 thus far, according to Advertising Analytics, with plans to spend $1.2 million.
The Koch network, which until recently had stayed out of judicial appointments, says it will spend seven figures supporting Kavanaugh’s confirmation but is not airing television ads supporting him at this time, opting instead to use its network of in-state canvassers and phone bankers to pressure senators including Donnelly and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) on their votes. Heritage Action, the policy arm of The Heritage Foundation, is similarly focused on on-the-ground organizing.
Leonard Leo, a close adviser to President Donald Trump on his Supreme Court nominees, was on hand at the Koch network’s recent donor confab in Colorado Springs, where he echoed a refrain that comes up frequently in conversations about spending on the right: Conservatives spend money on nominations because they need to correct Democrats’ habit of legislating from the bench.
“The left is far more engaged now than it was during the last Supreme Court confirmation,” Leo cautioned a room full of Koch donors. “They understand they depend very much on the courts for their policy outcomes as opposed to the democratic process, which doesn’t support much of what they believe in.”
Democrats say their party is slowly catching up to the GOP, though a major enthusiasm gap remains.
“Democrats have to pay more attention to addressing what’s going on in the courts and with this nominations process before we get a vacancy. So that people understand the horrible record of 5-4 partisan decisions from the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Liberals are trying to make up for being swamped on TV by organizing on the ground. NARAL, for example, plans to spend about $1 million total on TV, print and digital ads — but is also participating in a nationwide “Rise up for Roe” tour barnstorming the country and says a coalition of liberal groups will have done around 500 anti-Kavanaugh events by the end of the August.
Ilyse Hogue, NARAL’s president, said the group is plowing the “vast majority” of its resources into on-the-ground organizing, arguing it far dwarfs the activism on the right.
“We’ll spend more money on ads but our premise has always been that [conservatives] spend as much as they do on ads because they don’t have people,” Hogue said. “The ads can’t buy you love.”
Published at Mon, 20 Aug 2018 09:04:31 +0000