President Donald Trump is counting on the battle over a Supreme Court vacancy to inject new life into his faltering campaign, but it's unlikely to overshadow the ongoing pandemic and struggling U.S. economy that have battered his chances for re-election.
The president plans to formally begin the confirmation battle at 5 p.m. Saturday in Washington in what he has billed as a "monumental" White House ceremony to reveal his nominee to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the high court.
Trump has told associates he'll nominate Amy Coney Barrett, an Indiana-based federal appeals court judge, according to people familiar with the matter. She is a favorite of social conservatives, who want to establish a 6-3 majority on the high court.
The nomination - coming just 38 days before the vote - means Trump is making his choice a centerpiece of his argument for a second term. The president has insisted that the Senate vote on his pick before the Nov. 3 Election Day, saying it's essential for avoiding a potential tie vote if the results are contested.
Even some of Trump's advisers acknowledge the fight might not offer political salvation, despite allowing him to change the subject from the virus and the economy. The relatively slim number of Republicans who vote almost solely on the makeup of the Supreme Court are likely already in Trump's column, while other voters have more pressing needs on their minds.
"If I asked the question: 'all things being equal, would you rather have Congress debate about the Supreme Court seat or on another stimulus package?' They'll choose the stimulus," said John McLaughlin, a Trump campaign pollster. "People don't want to see unemployment go up."
About 29 million Americans continue to collect unemployment benefits and Congress has failed to pass another round of stimulus. At the same time, coronavirus infections in the U.S. has surpassed 7 million - the most of any country - as a new wave of cases builds heading into the fall.
Polls suggest voters haven't shifted since Ginsburg's Sept. 18 death, with Democratic challenger Joe Biden still about 7 points ahead of Trump in national averages.
The battle over the vacancy could energize some of Trump's core voters - such as evangelicals and Roman Catholics in Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Barrett is known to be against abortion. Democrats, though, appear to be just as galvanized.
Almost two-thirds of Biden supporters say the court vacancy makes it more important that the Democrat wins the election, compared to 37% of Trump supporters who say the same of the president, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. And a series of Fox News polls show that voters in swing states Ohio, Nevada and Pennsylvania trust Biden more than Trump to make a Supreme Court nomination. The surveys showed Biden leading in all three states.