Predicting Brett Kavanaugh’s Chances

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Five United States senators hold the result of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court in their hands.

Three are Republicans. Two are Democrats. They are the only fence-sitters left. Kavanaugh has 48 senators in his corner, with 47 opposed. He needs any two of the five remaining undecideds, on the assumption that Vice President Mike Pence would break a tie in his favor for confirmation.

Let’s assume the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation yields nothing more damaging than that Kavanaugh was once questioned by police following a bar fight in college, which the New York Times reported Monday night.

How will the remaining senators vote?


Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota)

A new poll has Heidi Heitkamp trailing her Republican challenger, Kevin Cramer, by 10 points in her re-election bid. It’s also the first poll that puts Cramer over 50 percent – he leads 51-41, according to the NBC Valley News poll.

President Donald Trump won North Dakota, 64-28, in 2016, a difference of 36 points.

If Heitkamp is going to have a shot to come back and win in November, she has to vote for Kavanaugh.

Of the fence-sitters, Heitkamp has made the most even-handed comments about Kavanaugh.

Prediction:  Heitkamp will vote yes on Kavanaugh.


Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia)

Joe Manchin holds an eight-point lead over Republican challenger Patrick Morrissey in the most recent poll, despite representing a state President Donald Trump won 69-27 in 2016.

He’s benefiting from facing a candidate who isn’t originally from the state and who has deep ties to lobbying, an unpopular line of work.

At 46-38, Manchin is still under 50 percent, which is a danger zone for an incumbent. Late-breaking undecideds in a close race usually go heavily for the challenger.

But Manchin plays the moderate statesman better than most. He can couch a vote against Kavanaugh in terms of saving Obamacare health insurance for uninsured residents of his economically distressed state.

And despite having a reputation for being a maverick who knows how to talk tough to left-leaning party leadership, Manchin is usually there when Democrats need him.

Prediction:  Manchin will vote no on Kavanaugh.


Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Lisa Murkowski is pro-abortion and also owes American Indians in Alaska for her victory as a third-party write-in in 2010, and Alaska Indians don’t like Kavanaugh because of doubts he once expressed about the collective rights of Hawaiian indigenous people.

Murkowski has called for a thorough F.B.I. investigation into Kavanaugh, but she hasn’t said she’ll be bound by what the investigation finds. That leaves her wiggle room for finding another reason to vote against Kavanaugh even if the F.B.I. investigation finds no significant dirt.

She is also one of the least reliable Republicans.

Prediction:  Murkowski will vote no on Kavanaugh.


Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)

Jeff Flake is the weakest person in the United State Senate.

He was in the Kavanaugh column before last Friday, when – hours after announcing he would vote for Kavanaugh in the Senate Judiciary Committee – he demanded a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Kavanaugh after being confronted in an elevator by two women who identified themselves as sexual assault survivors.

He also appears muchly influenced by his friend, Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a Kavanaugh foe.

Flake’s comments during the last several days have been all over the map – first saying that whatever the F.B.I. finds will determine his vote, but then saying that he didn’t like the partisan tone of Kavanaugh’s impassioned self-defense last Thursday.

If your life depended on it, you wouldn’t want to have to count on Jeff Flake.

Flake also despises President Donald Trump, something he delights in mentioning in public settings. The chance to stick it to Trump on his way out the door (he’s not running for re-election in November) while pleasing his friends on the Democratic side may be too much to pass up.

Prediction:  Flake will vote no on Kavanaugh.


Susan Collins (R-Maine)

Susan Collins is the most left-leaning Republican in the Senate and maybe in Congress. She’s also a famous shilly-shally-er, often waiting until late in the game to make up her mind.

She’s also staunchly pro-abortion. So on paper she seems the least likely GOP senator to support Kavanaugh.

Yet Collins announced early in the game that she believes Kavanaugh will vote to uphold Roe v. Wade based on her conversation with him before the hearings. (Seems unlikely, particularly at this point, after all that’s happened; but if it’s true – how ironic.)

She also has a backbone. She surprisingly not only supported pro-life Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General this past January, but introduced him to the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though Sessions was a controversial pick. She also doesn’t like the over-the-top anti-Kavanaugh lobbying she has been getting, including sit-ins at her office in Maine and threats of large sums of cash going to whoever might run against her in 2020 if she votes for the judge.

If Collins is comfortable with Kavanaugh on abortion and comfortable that the F.B.I. investigation finds no corroboration for the charges against him, she has no firm personal reason to vote against him. As a senator from a firmly divided state – one that supports left-wing U.S. Senator Angus King and right-wing Governor Paul LePage – Collins knows that politically she’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t on the Kavanaugh vote. The political calculus is a toss-up.

The key takeaway is that Collins came away from her interview with Kavanaugh liking him. If the accusations against him remain unproven, there’s no reason for her to flip.

Prediction:  Collins will vote yes on Kavanaugh.


Outcome Prediction:  The U.S. Senate will vote 50-50 on Kavanaugh, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie for him. Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed and join the U.S. Supreme Court.