Kavanaugh battle fires up voters as midterms near

At a rally in Iowa on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump used the bitter battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh to boost Republican voter enthusiasm for the Nov 6 midterm elections, but surveys show that Democrats are enthusiastic to vote too.
At a rally in Iowa on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump used the bitter battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh to boost Republican voter enthusiasm for the Nov 6 midterm elections, but surveys show that Democrats are enthusiastic to vote too.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Both Republicans and Democrats energised by battle over judge

United States President Donald Trump, feeding off a raucous crowd on Tuesday night at a packed 9,000-seat arena in the solidly favourable territory of Council Bluffs, Iowa, came out wielding the Justice Brett Kavanaugh episode like a weapon.

"What the Democrats did to Brett and his beautiful family is a national embarrassment and national disgrace," he rasped, as every other sentence was interrupted with loud applause.

"In just four weeks, you will have the chance to render your verdict on the Democrats' outrageous conduct," he said, urging people repeatedly to get out and vote, or mail their ballots in early.

But the sentiment in that arena is not shared by all, judging by an MSNBC poll which showed that 50 per cent of Americans disapproved of Justice Kavanaugh.

In fact, the judge's contentious confirmation process - in which he was accused of an alleged sexual assault 36 years ago but was nonetheless confirmed along partisan lines - has been weaponised by both sides.

And while Republicans have by all accounts been energised by the nasty battle over the judge, Democrats may be even angrier.

Early voting for the Nov 6 midterm elections has already begun in some states. The volume of early voting as well as the turnout on Nov 6 will largely determine the results, pundits said. The Democratic Party appears to have an advantage for now.

Mr Trump hopes the buoyant economy and anger with the "radical left", which he maintains has "taken over" the Democratic Party, will carry the day on Nov 6.

But four weeks is a long time in politics, and even longer in the US' feverishly partisan landscape.

A CNN poll released on Tuesday found that 40 per cent of registered Democrats were "extremely enthusiastic" about voting next month, up from 33 per cent a month ago. The figure for registered Republicans was roughly stable at 29 per cent, down from 30 per cent last month.

The Democratic Party has a close to 78 per cent chance of seizing control of the House of Representatives, where it needs to flip 23 seats to win a majority, the Five Thirty Eight election-forecasting website said this week. But the Republican Party had an 80 per cent chance of retaining its majority in the Senate.

Apart from using the Kavanaugh controversy to rile up his base, the President is basking in good economic numbers. Last Friday, jobs data showed unemployment had dipped to 3.7 per cent - the lowest in 49 years.

Also last week, the US sealed what the Trump administration called a new and improved trade deal with Canada and Mexico; the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) is now replaced with the USMCA, or the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

 
 
 

Mr Trump hopes the buoyant economy and anger with the "radical left", which he maintains has "taken over" the Democratic Party, will carry the day on Nov 6.

But four weeks is a long time in politics, and even longer in the US' feverishly partisan landscape.

Dr Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, referring to the Kavanaugh battle, said: "If the elections were held this weekend then it might have been equal for both sides, but the winners will not remain as fired up as the losers.

"It just solidifies their belief that something has to be done."

And there is one wild card - the unpredictable President himself.

"You just never know what this President might do," Dr Bullock said.

SEE OPINION: The coming storm over the US Supreme Court

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2018, with the headline 'Kavanaugh battle fires up voters as midterms near'. Print Edition | Subscribe