WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court would light the Republican base on fire one month before the November election, rousing conservatives who might otherwise have lacked enthusiasm.
“The ironies of ironies, this has actually produced an incredible surge of interest among these Republican voters going into the fall election,” McConnell told USA TODAY in interview just before Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
“We’ve all been perplexed about how to get our people as interested as we know the other side is, well this has done it," he said.
The confirmation vote was a big win for President Donald Trump and is likely to further shift the Supreme Court to the right. Kavanaugh is replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, a moderate who was often a swing vote on the court.
One risk for Republicans is that even if the Kavanaugh nomination fight stokes conservative enthusiasm, it could galvanize Democrats even more. The potential for that was evident in protests over Kavanaugh that took place for weeks on end, culminating in a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol Saturday by protesters dressed in black.
Dozens were arrested and the demonstrators later moved to the steps of the Supreme Court.
"No justice, no peace," protesters chanted.
Progressive groups are planning marches throughout the country in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 midterms.
At stake in the confirmation battle over Kavanaugh were hot-button issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage that are likely to come before the court. The polarization intensified after Christine Blasey Ford went public with her allegations that he had sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school.
Trump and Senate Republicans accused Democrats of using the accusations as a last-minute maneuver to derail Kavanaugh's nomination. Democrats expressed outrage of Republicans' handling of the allegations and efforts by the White House to limit the scope of the FBI investigation into the matter.
Anger at Trump has stirred Democratic enthusiasm for the midterms, but an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that as the bitter confirmation fight over Kavanaugh wore on, Republicans became more revved up, narrowing a 10-point enthusiasm gap Democrats had in July narrowed to just 2 points in October.
“Nothing unifies Republicans and fires up Republicans more than a court fight,” McConnell said Saturday in the phone interview. "Our opponents on the Kavanaugh confirmation have done what we were unable to figure out how to do ourselves, which is to get our core supporters really energized and really anxious to go vote.”
“It is a big day,” he said.
But Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., called the Senate vote "sad."
She told reporters that as she looked over at Republicans in the chamber who were elated by the confirmation, she thought, "Well, let's see how you feel after the election."
Asked about McConnell's prediction that Kavanaugh vote will energize Republicans, Klobuchar said: "I'm not going to be a pundit. I just know this was wrong."
Contributing: Deborah Berry and Herb Jackson