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Democrats like McCaskill caught between 'historic stakes' and immediate politics on Kavanaugh nomination

Chuck Raasch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The "stakes for this nomination are historic," says Sen. Dick Durbin. D-Ill., on President Donald Trump's choice of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.

For Durbin's Senate colleague Claire McCaskill, the stakes are immediate.

Her re-election chances this fall could depend heavily on how she votes on the nomination, how she explains that vote, and how her Republican foes frame it against her long-standing claims that she is a centrist, not beholden to her party's leftward-moving liberal wing.

These conflicting impulses define the Democrats, especially those fighting for survival in the United State Senate, over the next four months. With control of the Senate at stake, Kavanaugh's nomination has prompted a fresh ideological debate over everything from abortion to health care. His confirmation hearing probing his judicial stance on these topics will provide daily drama later this summer, or early fall, just as voters start paying attention before the Nov. 6 elections.

McCaskill is a heavy favorite to win her party's nomination, while Attorney General Josh Hawley -- with competition from ex-Libertarian Austin Petersen and former Air Force pilot Tony Monetti, among others -- is the Republican front-runner.

McCaskill has already been attacked on her opposition to Trump's 2017 nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Another "no" on a second Trump nominee would be a chance for Republicans to double down that attack in a state Trump won by almost 19 percentage points in 2016.

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She said Tuesday that the fact that she has voted to approve nearly eight out of 10 Trump nominees to lower courts proves she takes each case on merit.

"I am going to look at his record. I am going to be very diligent," McCaskill said. "I am going to go through all of his writings. I am going to visit with him, obviously, and then I am going to make a decision on what is right.

"Anyone who thinks you can make some purely political decision on this is not being realistic about a state like Missouri," McCaskill said. "It is not like I make a whole bunch of people happy no matter how I vote. The bottom line is you just do what is right and explain it, and Missourians, I think, will understand."

Hawley will greet Vice President Mike Pence in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, as Pence campaigns for endangered Kansas Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder. Trump's nomination of Kavanaugh is almost certain to be mentioned as an opportunity to turn the nation's highest court rightward for a generation. Pence, whose PAC recently donated to Hawley's camapign, is expected to return to the state in coming weeks to campaign for Hawley. Other members of the Trump administration are expected to follow, with the Kavanaugh nomination in their proverbial hip pockets.

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