WASHINGTON - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death thrust the Supreme Court into the center of the presidential race just six weeks before Election Day, and with voting under way in some states, reshaping the showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
For Trump and his Republican allies in the Senate, the vacancy lets him change the subject away from the coronavirus pandemic that has imperiled his odds for winning a second term. Now, they can offer their base a chance to tighten the conservative majority on the high court for years to come.
Yet Biden and Democrats can seize on the moment, too, invoking Ginsburg's legacy to spur turnout on Nov. 3 and give liberals a fresh reason to vote out Trump. Democrats contributed more than $20 million to ActBlue in four hours after Ginsburg's death was announced.
Jim Manley, a former top aide to ex-Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, said he hopes Democrats "wake up" to the importance of the Supreme Court.
"The reality is that Republicans have always taken judicial nominations more seriously than Democrats," he said. "My hope is that that actually changes with this shocking news. Whether it does or not remains to be seen."
The president had already begun to make the court a campaign issue, releasing a list of potential candidates just last week. He will push ahead with another nomination in the final weeks of his first term, and if he succeeds, he will have selected three justices in just four years.
"This resets the race," said Republican donor Dan Eberhart. "We are not running solely on the COVID response and the economy anymore."
Biden has rarely spoken about the Supreme Court except to commit to nominating a Black woman to the bench if he gets the opportunity. Now he has to seize on the issue as well, and Democrats were already showing signs they were willing to join him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly vowed that the Senate would vote on a selection Trump was assumed to be planning to announce shortly. On Saturday Trump removed most remaining doubts, saying Republicans "have this obligation, without delay" to put forth a nominee to replace Ginsburg.
Democrats said McConnell should abide by the rules he set out in 2016, when he refused to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia nine months before Election Day.