Kavanaugh effect? Marsha Blackburn now leads Democrat by eight points in Tennessee

Until now, her biggest lead in any poll had been five — and that was a poll taken just six days ago. Before that Blackburn had struggled, occasionally leading by a few points in some surveys but just as often trailing by similar margins in others. A poll taken by CNN in mid-September that was in the field until the day before WaPo’s first story about Christine Blasey Ford broke had Democrat Phil Bredesen up by five.


Now, suddenly, it’s Blackburn by eight.

What could explain it?

Tennessee finds Republican Marsha Blackburn with an eight-point lead over Democrat Phil Bredesen, 50-42. Bredesen is a former governor who, having won statewide office before, has given Democrats hope of flipping a red state that Mr. Trump won easily…

In Tennessee and Texas, where Republicans lead, more voters wanted the Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh than not. In Tennessee, it was 47 percent confirm to 30 percent oppose; in Texas, 43 percent confirm to 35 percent oppose. In Arizona, things were more closely divided, at 41 percent confirm to 39 percent oppose, and New Jersey was only 38 percent confirm to 44 percent opposed. In each state, views on Kavanaugh divide along partisan lines, with three in four Republicans supporting confirmation, and between six and seven in ten Democrats opposing it. All voters were interviewed before the final confirmation vote took place Saturday.

There’s another data point for the “Kavanaugh backlash” theory of midterm politics. Bredesen is worried enough about it that he announced last week that he would have voted to confirm Kavanaugh if he’d had the chance. A fat lot of good it’s done him in the polls. In fact

Even before pledging support for Kavanaugh, Bredesen was booed by some supporters earlier in the week at a campaign event in Chattanooga for continuing to mull his decision.

Since Friday, some of Bredesen’s supporters have sharply criticized the move on social media, while Tennessee’s top Democratic leaders have stayed quiet about the decision publicly.

Two national Democratic-aligned groups announced they would not provide support for Bredesen’s campaign in the wake of his Kavanaugh support. MoveOn tweeted that it had planned a digital ad buy but has now canceled it. Priorities USA Action had not been spending in Tennessee, but that option is now off the table, the group told The Daily Beast.


He’s in the same jam that Heidi Heitkamp’s in, a red-state Democrat suddenly caught in no-man’s land during a raging political and cultural battle. The best illustration of how dire their predicament is comes from the fact that Bredesen and Heitkamp took opposite positions on Kavanaugh — she was a no on the nomination, remember — and yet each is suddenly fading in the polls. Heitkamp calculated that a yes vote would do little to endear her to Republicans in North Dakota, who are enraged at Democrats nationally, but would at least help her hold on to her base. Hasn’t paid off so far. Bredesen calculated that opposing confirmation would be political suicide in Tennessee while Democrats there might forgive him if he supported Kavanaugh in the name of pulling a huge upset. Hasn’t paid off for him either. In all likelihood it doesn’t matter what position a red-state Democrat takes on the nomination; he or she is going to get pummeled because of the national dynamics at work.

That’s just a theory, though. The evidence of its validity is mounting with the polling in North Dakota and Tennessee but the same CBS poll that has Blackburn suddenly ahead by eight also has Democrat Kyrsten Sinema clinging to a three-point lead in purplish-red Arizona. That race has tightened a bit since mid-September, before the Kavanaugh process went nuclear, but Martha McSally hasn’t led in a poll since early that month. CBS also has Bob Menendez up 10 points on Republican Bob Hugin in New Jersey, the second straight poll in which he’s led by double digits. Hugin was within single digits in multiple polls as recently as late September. We may be seeing a “reverse Kavanaugh effect” there — in a blue state, the politics of whether to confirm Kavanaugh are perilous for Republicans, not Democrats.


The state I’m really curious about is Florida. There hasn’t been a poll there since September 27, the day of the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing. Given how tight the state typically is and the topsy-turvy effect of the 10 days, with Republicans infuriated at the accusations against the nominee and Democrats infuriated that he was confirmed anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if either Rick Scott *or* Bill Nelson suddenly sprung ahead to a five-point lead. Although, Florida being Florida, the safest bet is always on a tie.

Meanwhile, from lefty Greg Sargent:

A senior Democratic strategist who is closely tracking internal data explained to me in a fascinating way how Trump’s behavior is playing politically. He tells me that in the red states that will decide control of the Senate — states where Democratic incumbents are fighting to hold on — many voters came to see the battle over Kavanaugh’s fate as inextricably tied to Trump — that is, as all about protecting and rallying to the side of Trump himself.

In other words, Kavanaugh was transformed from a generic conservative hatched in a Federalist Society lab into a Trumpist. This may explain Trump’s attacks on Ford — aside from succumbing to his usual depravity, he may have sensed that he needed to get GOP senators more fearful of the wrath of the Trump base. It also helps explain why the White House advised Kavanaugh to show his feelings at his hearing, which he did by lashing out in anger and histrionic self-pity, while vowing partisan retribution.


It’d be noteworthy if Sargent’s strategist friend really is seeing numbers to back the theory that Trump somehow put Kavanaugh over the top but I was skeptical of that theory before and I remain skeptical now. Trump’s mockery of Ford came early last week, days after the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing and weeks after this fight began to turn intensely tribal. It was Kavanaugh’s own anger at the hearing that locked down Republican support for him; to the extent that he’s transformed from a Bushian establishmentarian into a “Trumpist,” that was the moment his transformation happened, not when Trump commented about Ford. Kavanaugh proved that he fights! so the base was willing to fight for him. But there’s no talking people out of believing this, I think. Republicans wants to believe that all good political things flow from Trump so of course they’ll endorse the idea that Trump’s shots at Ford were the difference. And Democrats like Sargent want to believe that all bad political things flow from Trump since, to the left, those things become grubby and illegitimate by association. Voila: Kavanaugh is no longer an esteemed judge well regarded by all of the eggheads in the GOP legal establishment, he’s a “Trumpist.”

Exit question: Should we take Taylor Swift’s surprising endorsement of Bredesen in Tennessee (she almost never comments on politics) as a sign of how worried Team Bredesen is? No doubt they were begging her for that for months, but there may be a new we-need-it-right-now urgency given the turn in the polls. Imagine how upset T-Swift will be when she finds out that not only did Bredesen support confirming Kavanaugh, his record on other #MeToo matters is, shall we say, problematic.


Update: Righties on Twitter are pointing to this post and the new Tennessee numbers and saying, “So much for the Taylor Swift effect!” Guys, the Swift endorsement happened last night; “new” polls are always a few days old by the time they’re ready for publication by news outfits. The CBS poll was taken from October 2-5, before Kavanaugh was even confirmed. There’s no evidence of a “Swift effect” yet because her endorsement came after this poll was finished.

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