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Keeping Kavanaugh front and center helped Trump keep the Senate

Anita Kumar, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- For weeks before Tuesday's election, President Donald Trump repeated the same theme over and over: Democrats orchestrated a campaign of lies against Justice Brett Kavanaugh that thrust him in the middle of a national humiliation and nearly cost him a seat on the Supreme Court.

"It was false accusations. It was a scam. It was fake. It was all fake," Trump told thousands of supporters at his final rally late Monday in Missouri. "They want to ruin a man. ... And it was headed up all by the Democrats, all by the Democrats."

Trump's strategy -- to keep the battle over Kavanaugh's nomination fight at the top of voters' minds -- persuaded some to turn out for Republicans just as he and his advisers had hoped.

Republicans maintained control of the Senate, with Democrats who voted against Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court were defeated in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and likely Florida. The only Democrat who voted for Kavanaugh, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, won re-election.

Ron Breidenthal, 73, an Uber driver from Lenexa, Kan., said the Kavanaugh fight motivated him to vote for a straight Republican ticket in early voting -- the first time he's voted in a midterm election.

"He was horribly treated," Breidenthal said. "Here they were just trying to destroy this poor guy. There's no doubt in my mind that he did not do it."

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Several women, including Christine Blasey Ford, accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault during his high school and college years. He angrily denied the accusations in a televised congressional hearing.

An outside Trump adviser who is close with the White House credited the Kavanaugh fight with starting a "fire" among conservatives -- a momentum that the president worked to hold first with the Supreme Court fight and later with a Central America caravan moving toward the United States. "It told them not to be complacent," the adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the president publicly.

But that momentum was blunted in recent days by the pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, both of which took attention away from Kavanaugh and turned off some voters who disagreed with Trump's decision to blame others for a lack of civility that contributed to the attacks. His approval rating dipped to 39 percent in recent polls.

"We did have two maniacs stop a momentum that was incredible, because for seven days nobody talked about the elections," Trump lamented at a Missouri rally Friday. "It stopped a tremendous momentum."

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