Politics

With Kavanaugh Hearings Underway, Supreme Court Ads Fill the Airways

Advertising, direct mail and fundraising continues on both sides

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, arrives for his Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing Tuesday in the Hart Building. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In Washington, all eyes may be on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, but people who would rather watch “Bachelor in Paradise” won’t be able to escape the Supreme Court debate either.

That is especially true in some key states, where interest groups on both sides of the aisle have continued to spend on advertising seeking to influence senators who have not announced their positions on whether they will support President Donald Trump’s second nominee for the nation’s highest court.

Tuesday kicked off a week of confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh, currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with plenty of fireworks that might find their way in future 2018 ads (or perhaps, 2020 presidential ads).

VoteVets.org, a liberal-leaning veterans advocacy group, was the latest to announce a new round of TV buys Tuesday. The organization is committing some $330,000 to running ads encouraging Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins in their respective states of Alaska and Maine to oppose Kavanaugh.

The spots, which include a  focus on the possibility that Kavanaugh could vote to upend the precedent set in the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, feature a direct-to-camera appeal from Kate Logan, an Iraq war veteran.

And they’re by no means alone. The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America announced its own new round of spending last week, committing six figures targeting Collins with an ad highlighting the story of Michelle Fish, a Maine voter who has supported the senator in the past. Fish said that when she was 18, she had an abortion to end a pregnancy she discovered while in an abusive relationship.

“I’m sharing my story for the first time publicly because I see the grave danger facing my daughters and my country if the Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court,” Fish said in a statement.

Watch: Democratic Delays, 2020 Hopefuls and Don’t Forget About the Issues — What We’re Watching at Kavanaugh’s Hearing

GOP goes all in

Of course, for every group spending money to push the Republican senators from Maine and Alaska to oppose Kavanaugh, there’s plenty on the other side too, seeking Democratic support.

Not much has changed on the playing field, with the three Democrats who supported Trump’s first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch — Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — being top targets.

That continues to be led by the Judicial Crisis Network, which has committed roughly $2.1 million of its multimillion-dollar campaign to date to paid media in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. That includes several ads featuring J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and author of the bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” and something of a conservative folk hero. 

The Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity announced Tuesday the latest facets of an advocacy effort that’s gotten into seven-figure spending territory, including direct advocacy and digital ad spending, as well as direct mail.

A new AFP mailer heading to the same four states where the Judicial Crisis Network has focused much of its efforts highlights the bipartisan support Kavanaugh received when he was nominated by President George W. Bush to the D.C. Circuit. 

GOP state attorneys general have gotten in on the act, as well. On Tuesday, the Republican State Attorneys General Association circulated a new ad featuring several current AGs, including Pam Bondi of Florida and Tim Fox of Montana, backed by what was described as a seven figure ad-buy from the Trump agenda-supporting 45Committee.

2020 on their minds

There’s been list-building as well.

For example, as Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary hearing was getting underway, with Democrats protesting the decision by Chairman Charles E. Grassley to move ahead with the hearings despite their ongoing objections about unfulfilled document requests, Sen. Cory Booker was encouraging New Jersey Democrats to join in the opposition.

“I will be questioning Judge Kavanaugh at length in this week’s Judiciary Committee hearing to shed more light on his views and record,” Booker wrote in an email blast sent to a state Democratic mailing list.

Republican groups supporting Kavanaugh have been accusing Booker and other potential 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls of seeking to use their performances at the Kavanaugh hearings as auditions for their party base.

A spokesman for the Republican National Committee was keeping a tally, subsequently circulated by the White House, of the number of times Democratic Judiciary members, including Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, sought to interrupt Grassley and other panel Republicans during the hearing Tuesday. 

Brad Parscale, the campaign manager for Trump’s 2020 campaign, also circulated a petition for the president’s supporters to back Kavanaugh, criticizing the Democrats’ tactics Tuesday. 

“They screamed. They interrupted. They were nasty — all in front of Judge Kavanaugh’s kids who were there to proudly watch their father’s historic Supreme Court hearing begin,” Parscale wrote. “It was a DISGRACE!”

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