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Voters in key Senate races say Kavanaugh battle is a motivator for the 2018 midterms

Texas Republicans say the battle made them more energized. So do Arizona Democrats and Republicans.

Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke shake hands after a debate for Texas’ US Senate seat in September 2018.
Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke shake hands after a debate for Texas’s US Senate seat in September 2018.
Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court over the weekend fundamentally shifted the makeup of one institution of the United States government; now the question is how much it will affect two others: the US Senate and House of Representatives. His confirmation and the fight beforehand are likely to hang over the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, but it’s not clear what effect they will have, including in key Senate races.

CBS News’s latest Battleground Tracker poll checked in on how the battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination played out among voters in Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and New Jersey heading toward the November elections. The findings: A majority of voters in all four states said the fight motivated them to get out and vote this November, but which way that would motivate them changed depending on the state. In Tennessee and Texas, more voters wanted their senators to confirm Kavanaugh rather than oppose him. In Arizona, it was about even, and in New Jersey, voters wanted him opposed.

The CBS poll was conducted by YouGov from October 2 to 5, prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation on Saturday.

In Tennessee, 47 percent of voters said they wanted Kavanaugh confirmed, while 30 percent did not. In Texas, 43 percent approved of Kavanaugh’s confirmation and 35 percent did not. In Arizona, it was much closer, with 41 percent wanting him confirmed and 39 percent opposed. And in New Jersey, 38 percent of voters wanted Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, while 44 percent did not.

Voter opinions seem to fall in line with how the states generally tend to lean politically: Tennessee and Texas are both traditionally red, Arizona is a bit more purple, and New Jersey blue.

Regardless of whether voters supported or opposed him, they said the Kavanaugh fight has energized them to go to the polls — though it could be that many of those people were already likely to vote in the first place. As CBS News points out, it could be the case that most of those people were already very likely to vote anyway, because a majority of them report having voted in a recent midterm.

With those consistent voters, the Kavanaugh motivation seems to align with the state’s political leanings more broadly. In Texas, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is in a heated race against Democratic challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke, 73 percent of Republicans say Kavanaugh’s nomination made them more energized, compared to 60 percent of Democrats. In Arizona, where it’s Republican Martha McSally against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, 63 percent of both Democrats and Republicans said they were more motivated by Kavanaugh.

But CBS News also found a contingent of voters who were possibly newly activated by the confirmation fight. One in five people who said they were energized by Kavanaugh’s nomination didn’t report voting in the 2010 or 2014 midterms. Per CBS:

In each state, the Democratic Senate candidate is doing better among this smaller group of new midterm voters motivated by the issue than among the larger group of previous midterm voters who are.

In the Arizona Senate race, Democrats may benefit electorally from the confirmation. Among likely Arizona voters who said they might still change their mind about whom to support, 30 percent said Kavanaugh’s confirmation would make them more likely to consider voting for a Democrat, while only 10 percent said the same for a Republican.

We still don’t really know what Kavanaugh’s confirmation will mean in 2018 and beyond

The battle over Kavanaugh’s nomination and ultimate confirmation was one of the most bruising fights over a Supreme Court pick in recent history. Republicans have suggested that the fight has energized their voters in an election cycle where previously they were concerned their constituents might not be excited to go to the polls.

As Vox’s Dylan Scott points out, the landscape appears complicated. The Kavanaugh fight might be good for the GOP’s prospects in the Senate, as many battles are being fought in red states, but in the House races, it’s a different story:

Republicans might be improving their odds of keeping the Senate, where the GOP base will be crucial — several vulnerable Democrats are up for reelection in states that Trump won in 2016 and where he still remains popular. But the Supreme Court fight might not help as much in the House elections, where suburban swing districts — and swing voters, women in particular — will decide who controls the chamber.

In November, we’ll find out.

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