The Kavanaugh Whip Count
Published September 12, 2018 / Updated August 7, 2020

The Kavanaugh Whip Count

It’s about to get nerdy in here

by Chris Thomas

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Not this kind of whip. Image by Davidd via Flickr

Eleven Senators remain “on the fence” when it comes to judge Kavanaugh. If ten [Ed: revised from nine in light of the seating of John Kly (R-AZ) who will almost certainly vote to confirm] of them vote against him he will not clear the Senate. For Democrats, this is an uphill battle: eight of the ten votes they need come from within their own party.

Image borrowed from Vox

If any of the faces at left look like your Senator, you need to let them know how you feel about Kavanaugh in no uncertain terms. If you’ve already done so, it wouldn’t hurt to do it again.

But let’s not kid ourselves: these Senators are crafty political animals. At this stage it is difficult to imagine that anyone is really undecided about Trump’s nominee to the Court. These politicians aren’t unsure of how they feel; they’re unsure of what position benefits them most.

So, without further ado, Resistbot presents a glimpse into the minds of the eleven Senators who’ll decide the fate of the Court.

❌Alabama — Doug Jones (Oppose)

Update — Jones said he would be voting “no” citing Dr Ford’s testimony and the flawed nature of the confirmation process. Our original analysis of his position follows:

Jones is a newcomer to the Senate and won narrowly against the sort of opponent that every politician dreams about: a child molester. It’s extremely difficult to lose an election to a child molester and yet Jones came close. On the other hand, he’s a Democrat from Alabama so he’s a political unicorn of sorts. While Jones squeaked out a narrow win, Trump carried the state by more than 25 points, making it likely that Jones will be a one-term Senator unless he can find another child molester to run against.

Jones would probably like to vote against Kavanaugh if he can find a way to make it politically possible; he received a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Alaska — Lisa Murkowski

Murkowski is one of the three Republicans on the list and one of six female Republicans in the Senate. With no meaningful challenge from the Left, Murkowski’s last election was fought against a libertarian. While she handily won the race, this means that Murkowski’s political future depends on maintaining her Republican identity while also building a centrist coalition of voters in Alaska.

Murkowski voted 58% of the time with the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, suggesting that while she talks a good game on abortion rights, she’s a great deal more flexible than is generally assumed. Trump carried Alaska by about 15 points in 2016 but that doesn’t mean as much in her case with Alaska voters casting Republicans on the left of state politics.

❓ Arizona — Jeff Flake (It’s complicated)

Flake has been back and forth on this from the beginning. He allowed the nomination to move to the full Senate but requested a week for an FBI investigation into the existing allegations against Kavanaugh. It is not clear if he will vote “no” if he doesn’t get that investigation and/or delay and it’s not clear if the existing allegations extend beyond those made by Ford but surfaced prior to the 9/28 committee vote. Our original analysis of Flake’s position follows.

The only male Republican on our list, Flake is an open critic of President Trump and plans to retire at the end of his term. Retire is probably the wrong word for it: Flake has lots of options open to him following his career as a Senator, many of them very lucrative. He will be trading on his Republican bona fides in his post-Senatorial life, however, and so protecting his brand matters to him.

Flake has been a good Republican solider in his opposition to abortion rights but he wants to be seen as one of the adults in the room when it comes to the Trump administration. If Kavanaugh’s appointment comes off as part of the unhinged political circus that surrounds Trump, Flake could vote against his confirmation.

❌Florida — Bill Nelson (Oppose)

Nelson made a short-and-to-the-point tweet in the early morning of September 28th indicating that he would vote no on Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Our original analysis of his position follows:

Nelson is the first Senator on our list who’s facing re-election this year. Real Clear Politics has him down 1.7 points (ie, within the margin of error) in the race, making his a vote that will probably be critical to his re-election campaign.

Trump carried swing-state-Florida by 1.2 points which presents Nelson with a bit of a political puzzler: in an election in which Democrats have an 8.5 point popular vote advantage, Nelson is somehow polling below Clinton’s actual performance in 2016.

For Nelson, the question is: will voting to confirm Kavanaugh keep Republicans at home more than voting against him will turn out progressives on election day.

❌Indiana — Joe Donnelly (Oppose)

Donnelly has issued a statement indicating that he will vote to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination. Our original analysis of Donnelly’s position follows:

Donnelly is another Democrat facing re-election this year. Unlike Nelson, his race looks much friendlier than it did in 2016. Trump carried Indiana by almost 19 points but Donnelly is up an average of 5.7 points in the polls. That ~25 point swing should give him confidence but it may do the opposite.

Donnelly’s pro-choice credentials are weak. If he thinks that his voters are Trump protest voters who care about conservative issues but worry that the President has the emotional maturity of a toddler on PCP, he’ll be hesitant to vote against Kavanaugh based on issues. He certainly wasn’t willing to vote against Neil Gorsuch— Trump’s previous appointee; Donnelly joined just two other Democrats in voting for his confirmation.

Maine — Susan Collins

Collins is the vote everyone is watching right now despite Murkowski being a harder target and equally important to any Democratic strategy. Collins has fairly strong pro-choice credentials and has spoken openly about how important that issue is to her. Democrats won the 2016 vote in Maine by about 3 points — not a crushing victory, but concerning nonetheless to a Republican Senator.

Collins’ next election will be in 2020. While she won her 2014 race by almost 7 points, she’ll be a tempting target for Democrats in 2020 if she’s instrumental to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Complicating matters for her, a Crowdpac fund has raised over a million dollars to fund her opponent if she votes to confirm.

❌Missouri — Claire McCaskill (Oppose)

_Update — _McCaskill has stated that she will not vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. Our original analysis of her position follows:

There are 18.63 reasons that Claire McCaskill — a female, pro-choice Democrat — might vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh. That’s how many points Trump carried Missouri by in 2016. Things aren’t quite as dire for her as they are for Bill Nelson; McCaskill has made up the 18 points and is polling neck-in-neck with her Republican challenger but it’s a tight race.

McCaskill’s solid pro-choice voting record is at odds with polling data from her state which suggests that bare majority (almost dead-on 50%) of Missourians think abortion should be illegal in nearly every case. For McCaskill this decision is going to come down to what it means for turnout, especially of female voters.

❌Montana — Jon Tester (Oppose)

Tester’s opposition to Kavanaugh ranges from the PATRIOT act to sexual assault allegations. He announced that he’d vote no on 9/28. Our original analysis of Tester’s position follows:

Tester has the cold comfort of at least leading his reelection against Matt Rosendale by 5.5 points but it’s a confusing political fight. Tester is essentially running an “authenticity” offensive against Maryland real-estate developer Rosendale. Polls suggest that its working but a certain New York real estate developer carried Montana by more than 20 points in 2016 so Tester probably has his doubts.

Tester wants to keep the conversation in Montana on subjects that advantage him over his opponent: specifically the use and development of rural lands. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing is a distraction for him, despite his pro-choice record. If Tester votes to confirm it’ll be because he sees an opportunity to ride an anti-Trump wave and the Democratic party leans on him.

❌Nevada — Catherine Cortez Masto (Oppose)

Update —_ Cortez Masto has come out in opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination_. Our original analysis of her position follows:

Masto is the second female Democrat to make this list and like McCaskill she also has a bulletproof pro-choice record she’s proud of. Masto is a bit of a mystery though, as she has none of the complicating concerns that her colleagues face.

Masto is not facing election this year, Clinton carried her state (though by a thin margin). While she has echoed the party line about a rushed confirmation, Masto is playing her cards close to the vest.

North Dakota — Heidi Heitkamp

Heitkamp is the third and final pro-choice, female Democrat to make this list and the second one up for re-election. While struggling to push back from a 35-point Trump victory in 2016, Heitkamp is still not from the red-est state on the list, an honor that falls to Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Like Masto and McCaskill, Heitkamp has a solid pro-choice record but unlike them she hails from a state where a clear majority oppose abortion. Heitkamp’s election is in toss-up territory right now and the Kavanaugh issue is a losing one for her. She has broken with the party on the issue of the Courts before. Heitkamp was the second Democratic vote for Neil Gorsuch.

West Virginia — Joe Manchin

It’s almost inconceivable that a Democrat could win West Virginia after George W Bush flipped it so effectively in 2000 but Manchin managed to do it twice — the second time by almost 25 points. Manchin’s formula for success in West Virginia relies on strong conservative credentials. He’s the least pro-choice Democrat on this list with a 57% track record according to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. In fact, he votes Trump’s position more often than he does Planned Parenthoods: 61% of the time. That’s an odd thing for a Democrat.

Manchin is leading his re-election bit by 8.4 points which is well below the comfortable 25 point margins he put up in 2012 but still fairly safe. Even so, Manchin probably sees the writing on the wall. He can’t expect to find much success as a West Virginia Republican and, if he’s not voting with the Democrats on the big issues, he’s not much use to the party beyond attempting to establish Senate control. If Democrats are within striking distance of the Senate, Manchin can probably vote to confirm Kavanaugh to save his political skin. If Democrats don’t retake the Senate — and that’s a longshot — he could be putting his 2024 future at risk.

Tell Congress What You Think

If you see your senators on the above list it means your voice could turn the fight for the Court. Even if you don’t see yours, however, it’s important to let them know how you feel. Every Senator will vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation and every vote matters. You can write to your Senators by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to make a difference.

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