The 2000 race also left the Senate split 50-50, with Republican Vice President Dick Cheney breaking ties. In a power-sharing arrangement, the Judiciary Committee was evenly split, 9-to-9, with a Republican chairman. If Democrats could stick together, they could hold Ashcroft to a 9-9 tie in committee, which would have allowed the nomination to go on to the full Senate, but would also have allowed Democrats to portray it as a vote of no confidence in a top George W. Bush appointee.
In Judiciary Committee hearings, Democrats attacked Ashcroft furiously. They extended the hearings to four days, called a long slate of outside witnesses, and attempted to portray Ashcroft as a kind of neo-Confederate, hyper-religious abortion fanatic who was, in the perennial favorite formulation of Democratic attacks on Republican nominees, “insensitive” on issues of race.
In the end, Ashcroft won the committee vote, 10 to 8, only because Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, a friend of Ashcroft’s, voted to move the nomination to the floor as an “olive branch” to the new administration. Democrats hated Feingold’s apostasy, while Ashcroft, damaged but alive, eventually won confirmation.