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A 4-week sprint: Democrats, GOP race to define elections

WASHINGTON (AP) — Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court fired the starting pistol for the final sprint to Election Day, with control of the House and Senate at stake.

The nation’s reckoning with power and who to believe about sexual misconduct has generated a new anger factor among the electorate and made the Nov. 6 balloting a referendum on more than President Donald Trump.

What to watch over the final four weeks:

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KAVANAUGH, TO THE COURT

Kavanaugh was sworn in as the nation’s 114th member of the Supreme Court after a savage battle that splintered the Senate and riveted the country. Kavanaugh took his oath of office to his lifetime seat on Saturday just hours after the climactic 50-48 roll call. It was the narrowest Senate vote to confirm a justice since 1881.

That was a fitting result for a 100-member chamber that represents a nation deeply split over an array of issues, from health care to who should be considered an American. A yawning divide has opened in the last year over whether allegations of sexual misconduct should be enough to topple accused men from the pinnacle of their professions.

Enter Kavanaugh, the appellate court judge accused by Christine Blasey Ford in emotional sworn testimony of sexually assaulting her in the 1980s, while the two were in high school. Accusations from other women followed, none corroborated.

Kavanaugh denies that he ever sexually assaulted anyone. In a frequently-shouted sworn statement of his own, he decried the Senate for putting his nomination in jeopardy.

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THE KAVANAUGH EFFECT

The Kavanaugh confirmation has blown open the midterm elections from being a national referendum on Trump’s stewardship to a raw emotional discussion over the lack of women in power and how to handle sexual misconduct allegations.

With Kavanaugh’s ascension to the high court, Republicans, long dispirited by Trump’s string of scandals and the prospect of losing their congressional majorities, are whooping it up.

“It’s turned our base on fire,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. He added Monday that the fight over Kavanaugh, particularly that his nomination was stymied by unproven allegations, injected the GOP with an “adrenaline shot that we had not been able to figure out how to achieve in any other way.”

Though Kavanaugh had been sworn in on Saturday, Trump hosted a glittering East Room ceremonial swearing-in for him Monday night.

What’s unclear is whether GOP unity is enough to preserve the GOP power in Congress.

The same question faces the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct after the White House successfully argued that the Kavanaugh allegations should not be conflated with the rest of the movement.

Even before the confirmation, Kavanaugh’s opponents had a comeback line, printed on the back of jackets they wore to the Capitol: “November is coming.”

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NORTH DAKOTA

Almost immediately after the Senate vote, Democrats felt the chill from faraway North Dakota. That’s the state Trump won by 36 percentage points against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. And even before the Kavanaugh controversy, the Senate race there was among a handful of close contests that could decide whether Republicans keep control of the Senate, where they have a 51-49 majority.

Then on Saturday, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp defied her state’s support for Trump and voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Heitkamp said she was concerned about Kavanaugh’s temperament after his emotional performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Without hesitation,” Heitkamp told reporters, she believed Ford.

Polls have put her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer, comfortably ahead.

He told The New York Times that #MeToo was a “movement toward victimization” that had caused a backlash. “The world got to see close up how ugly it can be when you go too far,” he’s quoted as saying.

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FRAMING THE STORY

Now it’s a four-week race to tell the story.

Trump has a busy campaign schedule to spread the word that the allegations against Kavanaugh were a “hoax that was set up by the Democrats” at what he’s called a dangerous time for men who can be falsely accused. “I think you’re going to see a lot of things happen on Nov. 6 that would not have happened before,” Trump said Monday as he departed for an event in Florida.

At Monday’s East Room ceremony, Trump again invoked the rhetoric Republicans are using to frame the whole episode: Kavanaugh, Trump said, had been “proven innocent,” even though critics say the investigation was not thorough enough to merit that conclusion. The campaign against Kavanaugh had been based on “lies,” including by “evil” people.

Trump is expected to spread that message over multiple campaign rallies, including this week in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky.

McConnell has cast Kavanaugh’s opponents, many of whom protested in the halls of the Senate and yelled at lawmakers, as “the mob.”

Democrats are pointing to the Republicans’ handling of the Kavanaugh confirmation as one more reason to oppose the president who nominated him and mocked Ford.

“Folks who feel very strongly one way or the other about the issues in front of us should get out and vote,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

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2020 CANDIDATES

Yep, they’re already running, ostensibly in support of other midterm election candidates.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., made a beeline from the Senate confirmation vote on Saturday for Iowa and the Democrats’ big fall fundraiser there.

“We’re not defined by a president who mocks a hero, Dr. (Christine) Blasey Ford. We’re not defined by a president who doesn’t believe women,” Booker told about 1,000 activists.

The next day, Sen. Kamala Harris turned up in politically important Ohio, where she reminded more than 1,000 of the party faithful at the Ohio Democratic Party’s fall fundraising dinner that she walked out of the Kavanaugh proceedings at one point because they had become “a sham and a disgrace.”

She said she doesn’t believe the Kavanaugh story is over. “On these issues that were presented during those hearings, I believe the truth will eventually reveal itself.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders is embarking on a nine-state battleground tour on behalf of Democratic candidates to test the durability of the left-leaning coalition he assembled in 2016.

And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is spending heavily on Facebook ads in an effort to build a national base of support, according to the Boston Globe and the Center for Responsive Politics.

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Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Louisville, Ky., and Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, N.J., contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman




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