Was Kavanaugh picked to block Mueller probe?

CNN's Brian Todd investigates what part President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh might play in the ongoing Russia investigation.

Posted: Jul 11, 2018 1:50 PM
Updated: Jul 11, 2018 2:06 PM

The Republican National Committee is launching an effort to turn President Donald Trump's Supreme Court appointment into a dominant issue in 10 key states ahead of November's midterm elections, CNN has learned.

The GOP's effort -- which includes an extensive field program, digital ads and op-eds -- targets Democratic senators up for re-election in states Trump won in 2016 and illustrates how crucial Republicans believe the issue will be for their base in the midterm elections.

The RNC plans to make Brett Kavanaugh's nomination the focus of phone calls and door-to-door visits with flyers and petitions, as well as Facebook and Twitter ad buys, email campaigns, volunteer training efforts and op-eds in key areas. The RNC has committed $250 million toward the midterms, a staffer said.

"We have the largest field program we've ever had, and we're using it to take Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation fight directly to voters," RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN. "If Senate Democrats want to obstruct this immensely qualified judge to appeal to their base, we'll make sure their constituents hold them accountable this November."

The RNC's first phase, which a staffer said is already in effect, is pushing information about Kavanaugh and his qualifications to Republican base voters in these states in an attempt to energize their most reliable portion of the midterm electorate.

Their second phase, which a staffer said will start two weeks before the confirmation hearings, will focus on mobilizing voters to put pressure on their home-state senators to confirm Kavanaugh.

Trump's announcement that Kavanaugh would be his pick for the Supreme Court immediately launched the highly polarized fight in the US Senate, testing both sides' abilities to unify their ranks just months ahead of the hugely consequential midterm elections.

The GOP is targeting Democrats up for re-election in states Trump won in 2016 -- of which there are 10, not including Sen. Doug Jones, who's not up for re-election this year but hails from Alabama.

The states the RNC is focusing on are Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The most vulnerable Democratic senators heading to the midterms include Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana -- all of whom voted for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.

Meanwhile, Democrats are targeting moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- both considered swing votes in the Senate who could help Democrats with the majority against Kavanaugh.

The RNC is working closely in coordination with the White House, Capitol Hill and outside groups, a staffer told CNN.

Republican outside groups -- including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP's Senate campaign arm, and the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- are preparing to focus heavily on the Supreme Court pick to motivate Republican voters headed into November's midterms.

A Republican strategist involved in Senate races said court appointments are hugely motivating factors for evangelical voters and some rank-and-file Republicans who weren't Trump supporters right away. And Trump voters -- who make up the majority of the electorate in most of this year's Senate battlegrounds -- are excited about the prospect of him filling more Supreme Court seats in the years to come, the strategist said.

"That's a very potent message and I think you'll see a lot of it," the Republican said.

Already, in Missouri, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, released a 30-second television ad focused on the Supreme Court and warning that "our way of life is at risk."

"Claire McCaskill wants liberals in charge. That's how she votes," Hawley says in the ad. "That's not Missouri's way and it won't be my way."

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