Collins top Dem target for 2020 over Kavanaugh vote

Maybe Democrats and their activist groups should concentrate more on 2018 for the Senate, where the Kavanaugh Effect cuts the other way. The Hill reports this morning that they want to make Susan Collins pay a price for her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, even if they have to wait for 2020 to do it. Democrats have her at #1 on their target list:

The Maine Republican shot up the list over the weekend after providing her GOP colleagues the crucial 50th vote needed to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In an increasingly partisan chamber, Collins has consistently been ranked as one of the Senate’s most moderate members. But her decision to support Kavanaugh outraged a coalition of progressives, activists and even some supporters who spent months urging her to vote against President Trump’s nominee.

Democrats are pledging to unseat her if she runs for reelection in 2020, comparing an almost hour-long floor speech that earned praise from fellow GOP senators to a “slap in the face.”

Is this really a surprise, however? Increasingly, both parties have to target moderates from purple states to make any Senate gains at all. This cycle gives Republicans a number of targets in red states, none of whom are strong progressives. They won’t win all of those seats this cycle — Joe Manchin’s looking pretty strong in West Virginia after his own aye on Kavanaugh, for instance — but those are the winnable seats for the GOP for the near-to-mid-future. As much as they’d like to do so, Republicans aren’t going to target Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand. Both parties are fighting for the scraps in the middle.

In 2020, the most likely flip for Democrats was always going to be Collins’ seat in Maine. Cory Gardner in Colorado and the seat currently held by Jon Kyl in Arizona are the next most likely wins for Democrats. The irony of this, of course, is that Collins is precisely the kind of Republican that Democrats insist they want to see — moderate, pro-choice, and a woman. Of course, the same can be said in reverse about the Democrats that Republicans are targeting in the Senate this time around. Manchin still faces a well-resourced challenger in three weeks, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is putting Chuck Schumer’s face on Manchin in the same way that Democrats will hang Donald Trump’s face on Collins in two years.

So who will step up to run against Collins? Democrats seem pretty stoked about Susan Rice, and she didn’t exactly sound a discouraging note over the last few days. First she put herself out as a candidate on Twitter:

Afterward she backed away a little, but still said she’d consider it:

Susan Rice, who was President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, said Sunday she’ll decide after next month’s midterm elections whether to run for the Senate from Maine in 2020 and try to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins. …

Speaking in New York during The New Yorker Festival, Rice said Collins “put party and politics over her own stated principles” of supporting equal rights and legalized abortion. “I think in a way that I really regret saying, she has betrayed women across this country,” Rice said.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation was stalled by accusations of sexual misconduct when he was in high school and college, but Collins and others said they were won over by his forceful denials and a supplemental FBI report they say produced no evidence corroborating the claims.

“What moved me … was a sense of outrage and frustration that somebody who fashions herself a moderate centrist, and somebody who cares for equal rights and LGBT rights and Roe v Wade and all of this stuff, could in a very political fashion not just decide to vote for Kavanaugh but do it in a fashion that was quite dismissive of the concerns of many Americans and many Mainers,” Rice said. “So it was on that basis that I decided I would think about it.”

That’s certainly music to the ears of activists. There are two problems with this, however. First, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh simply isn’t going to be a potent political issue two years from now. There will be other issues that eclipse it, especially in the second half of Trump’s term. These kinds of flash issues have a short half-life. If Rice is running on Kavanaugh two years from now, it’ll be easy for Collins to run rings around her on numerous other policies and issues on which Rice has had little involvement.

Second, Rice’s issue specialty — foreign policy — really isn’t terribly compelling for Congressional races, not even in the Senate. Most politics is local, and Rice isn’t even a full-time resident of Maine, so she won’t know that political topography well. But to the extent that foreign policy might make a difference, Rice will have a tough time overcoming her promotion of the false narrative from the Obama administration about what happened in Benghazi six years ago:

Collins certainly could be vulnerable, but that’s because she’s a Republican in a purple-to-blue state. If Rice is their choice for challenger, that might be enough to keep Collins in the Senate for a fifth term.