WASHINGTON - An election year featuring the impeachment of the president, the worst pandemic in a century, a catastrophic recession and racial unrest has left the race for the White House largely in the same place: Joe Biden holding a steady lead over Donald Trump nationally and in key battleground states.
If a Supreme Court fight suddenly upends the contest, it would prove the exception.
In the days since Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, Republicans and Democrats alike have rushed to declare that the looming battle over the newly opened Supreme Court seat will prove politically beneficial, confident it will galvanize their base and offer a critical motivational boost in the presidential campaign's final weeks.
But the likelier outcome, some operatives from both parties say, is a judicial showdown that will draw near-universal attention but fail to shift the broad contours of a race that hasn't changed much even in the face of an onslaught of historic events.
"The Supreme Court tends to be overrated as a campaign issue because the people motivated by it are certain to vote and certain who they are voting for," said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster. "If you believe both sides are 100% revved up right now, then it follows from that the impact is going to be minimum to nil."
These strategists say the dynamic might be different in down-ballot races, but not in a presidential contest where voters have already heard plenty from both campaigns and have deeply ingrained opinions about the current president.
Even the race's few remaining undecided voters are unlikely to be swayed by the vacancy, at least compared to the ongoing pandemic or economic recovery.
"Undecided voters by their very nature tend to be non-ideological and consistently moderate," said Steve Israel, former Democratic congressman from New York. "And my assumption would be they're going to be talking about whether their kids can go to school or whether more businesses are going to be boarded up as a result of COVID-19."
The court fight will have "very little bearing on the race," added Israel.
Trump said that he would announce his nominee to replace Ginsburg on Saturday, eight days after the former justice died and little more than five weeks before Election Day. Amy Coney Barrett, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Chicago, and Barbara Lagoa, a Miami-born judge who was the first Hispanic woman to serve on Florida's Supreme Court, appear to be the two favorites.