Kavanaugh Nomination Ad Battle Focuses on Maine, and Collins

(Bloomberg) -- In the two weeks since the publication of a sexual misconduct allegation against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, groups battling over his confirmation to the Supreme Court have placed the bulk of their television spending in Maine, where Republican Senator Susan Collins is a key vote in determining the outcome.

While a few Republican Senate candidates have made the composition of the court an issue in their ads, no candidate of either party has run a broadcast television or cable spot on the debate, which was touched off by allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school. But Josh Hawley, a Republican running in Missouri against Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, released an ad on YouTube Wednesday criticizing the “circus” of the confirmation process.

Since Ford’s accusations were first published in the Washington Post on Sept. 16 through Monday, outside groups have spent $653,060 in Maine, with some addressing the issue head on and others obliquely, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks the frequency and estimates the cost of political advertising.

Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, plus the vote of Vice President Mike Pence, who can break a tie. Two Republicans voting against confirmation would block Kavanaugh from the court, assuming all the Democratic senators oppose him. Collins, along with Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, haven’t committed to confirming Kavanaugh.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump mocked Ford’s account of the attack, which she says happened in 1982 when she was 15 years old, and White House officials say that the issue could ignite Republican voters in the fall. But so far, most of the political spending has been focused on affecting Collins, who doesn’t face voters until 2020.

The biggest spender in the Pine Tree State was the State Government Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit closely linked to a Republican political committee that focuses on down-ballot races. It spent $259,400 in the two weeks since Ford’s allegations emerged, switching on Sept. 25 from an ad that touted Kavanaugh’s support among Maine’s state lawmakers to one addressing the controversy. The 30-second commercial, which has been appearing in the Bangor and Portland markets, calls the allegations unproven, unsubstantiated and “raised out of the blue.” It quotes Kavanaugh’s denial without mentioning Ford.

One Nation, the nonprofit counterpart of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super-PAC with close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has spent $120,190 on an ad in Maine, running the same ad it used before the controversy arose. The ad quotes four Democrats, including two women, praising Kavanaugh.

Screen Battleground

The group that has spent the most on commercials since Ford’s allegations broke is the Judicial Crisis Network, a nonprofit that has spent about $12 million so far supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination. It ran four different ads, including a spot titled "It Never Happened," on national cable programs, spending $330,590.

Among the opposition, Demand Justice Initiative, a project of the nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund, spent $67,700 in Maine and $17,360 in Alaska on television ads. One spot quotes from Ford’s July letter describing the alleged assault, and ends by referring to her claim that Kavanaugh covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming. The ad ends by asking whether the senators will listen to her now.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has spent $192,770 running an ad that calls on Collins to vote against Kavanaugh because, the group predicts, he would vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The 60-second spot, which also ran before the allegations made by Ford surfaced, feature a constituent talking about the need for her daughters to have the same reproductive health choices she had when she was young.

Among candidates, Matt Rosendale, a Republican campaigning in Montana against that state’s Democratic incumbent, Jon Tester, has run commercials attacking Tester for voting for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court picks and against Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee who’s now an associate justice on the high court.

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