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The Kavanaugh Court Complexities -- Sunday Political Brunch September 23, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I have no idea what happened with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Basely 36 years ago, but I can certainly look at my “crystal ball” to assess to implications today. As I often say, as a political analyst I try to assess what may happen based on history, public mood, facts (or lack of facts), and then come to my conclusion. Yes, it’s a guess, but I hope after over forty years of covering politics it’s an educated guess. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Who’s in the Bullpen?” – Look, in baseball season when the team’s starting pitcher is faltering, the manager looks to the bullpen for relief. Make no mistake, the White House and GOP Senators are already vetting other candidates if Kavanaugh fails. Why? In politics – as in most endeavors – you need a backup plan. Let’s just say Kavanaugh can’t get 51 votes and Republicans then lose the Senate in the November elections. They still hold power until January 3, enough time to confirm another conservative. Yes, they lose the Senate majority for maybe two or four years, but they could control the Supreme Court for the next 25 years. That’s huge!

“The Modern Math” – Right now Republicans hold a 51 to 49 seat majority in the U.S. Senate. If one member of the caucus bolts, say Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) or Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the GOP could still confirm Kavanaugh with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote. But if Republicans lose two votes and no Democrats vote yes, Kavanaugh is gone. As for the House (which does not have a Supreme Court vote), the backlash against how Republicans handle this, could affect voters in marginal districts. Right now, the GOP holds 236 House seats, to 193 for Democrats, with six vacancies. If Republicans have a net loss of 19 votes, they cede power to Democrats in the House.

“Clarence Thomas v. Anita Hill, 1991” – I’ve heard all week, from people on both sides, that this is the same the as the confirmation showdown in 1991 between Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and law professor Anita Hill. That was a controversial, inflamed national debate, but it’s not the same as today. Yes, both bear that “he said; she said” storyline with no corroboration, but the media and societal climates have changed a lot. There was no Facebook or Twitter in 1991, stirring public opinion. And there was nothing akin to the #MeToo solidarity movement of today. The cases may have similarities, but the stage is way different.

“What Else Has Changed?” – The public discussion of sexual impropriety in the workplace - or in any societal setting – just began to emerge in the Thomas-Hill era. Conversely, we are just coming off a year in which such notable Americans as Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Les Moonves, Roger Ailes, and countless others have had their careers felled by accusations and admissions of sexual misconduct. What started as a few raindrops in the Thomas case, is now a full-fledged Category-5 Hurricane today. I’m not saying Kavanaugh is guilty – how on Earth would I know? But, the jury pool is much different in 2018 than in 1991.

“It’s a Different Congress, Too!” – In 1991, just two women served in the U.S. Senate. Both were white, with one a Democrat, and the other a Republican. Today 23 women serve in the Senate and four are women of color. By party, 17 are Democrats and six are Republican. I’m not saying women will always side with women, because that’s clearly not the case. What I am saying, is the make-up of the body (and the way we treat each other) has shifted dramatically.

“No More ‘House Keeping!’” – The U.S. House – while not having a role in the confirmation process – is certainly reflective of the changing political landscape and public mood. In 1991 just 31 women served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Today there are 84. In both chambers there has been steady growth in female membership since the 1992 election, just one year after the Thomas-Hill dispute. Now that’s not the sole reason, but it’s certainly been a factor. Women’s economic and educational gains are probably the biggest reason for their rise in political clout, but the concerns over sexual mistreatment cannot be discounted.

“The Tone” – Almost to a person, most Republican Senators and President Trump have said that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford should be heard from, that she should be allowed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee; and in fairness, Judge Kavanaugh should be able to tell his side of the story. Originally the idea was to have them appear Monday - but Ford balked – though she may be willing to come later in the week. She also asked the FBI to investigate her claim, which it declined since that’s not what the FBI does. Her team may be inadvertently putting her in a tough spot. In a courtroom, for example – and I know confirmation is not a legal case – but the combatants don’t get to choose the dates, who investigates, and what questions get asked. If her requests make the problem too burdensome to Senators, they may just go ahead and vote without her. That could backfire against them. So, we may see some accommodation on both sides.

“Two Alternative Hypotheses” – Women vote in greater numbers than men. In 2016, 52 percent of American who cast ballots were women, compared to 48 percent men. Furthermore, 54 percent of those women voted for Hillary Clinton, to 41 percent for Donald Trump – the biggest gender gap recorded since 1972. That would seem to say women have the upper hand in politics, and perhaps in the Kavanaugh debate. But remember, in 2016, the bottom line was that Donald Trump won the Electoral College and therefore the presidency. I’m not by any stretch saying that Kavanaugh’s fate will be decided by gender politics. Quite conversely – many senators, and the public – may say these accusations are from too long ago, with faded memories, and no corroboration. In a vacuum of evidence, Kavanaugh may just get confirmed, and we’ll see how the political fallout shakes out on November 6th.

Share your opinions at: www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar media TV stations serving West Virginia and surrounding states.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC --- Photo courtesy: Getty Images

“Race to the Primary Finish Line” - Sunday Political Brunch September 16, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – This marks the final week of primaries before the November election, with New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire holding contests this past week. Is anything a predictor of what will happen on November 6th? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“New York, New York” – It was a fascinating Hollywood sideshow, but in the end Governor Andrew Cuomo won a decisive primary win against “Sex in the City” actress Cynthia Nixon by a margin of 66 to 34 percent. It’s no surprise that the Cuomo “steamroller” of political influence won out, but the fact that one-third of the party faithful wanted someone else after two terms may be a warning call for this fall. In this volatile political climate, all bets are off. It’s open season.

“Rhode Island Red?” – My former home of the Ocean State has a Rhode Island Red as the official state bird, but that hardly extends to politics. This is a solidly “blue state” in the legislature and in Congress, but “Lil’ Rhody” has had a reputation of sending Republicans to the Governor’s office, such as Governors Lincoln Almond and Don Carcieri from 1995 through 2011. This year we have a rematch between Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) and Mayor Allen Fung (R-Cranston) who lost a close race in 2014. As with then, a third-party challenge could sink the GOP. In 2014 it was the now late Bob Healey, (M-RI); and in 2018 it’s former State Rep. Joe Trillo (I-RI), who could be the spoiler.

“New Hampshire, First in the Nation” – My favorite state in the nation to vacation, and yes cover politically, is New Hampshire. I just love it here. The First District Congressional seat will now feature a fascinating race between Chris Pappas (D-NH) the first openly gay nominee in state history, going against the Republican, a former police chief Eddie Edwards, an African-American. As always, New Hampshire politics is fascinating and could be a national bellwether about changing tides..

“Massachusetts Last Week” – Like Rhode Island, the Bay State is another reliable Democratic stronghold politically. But – just like Rhode Island – Massachusetts has no shyness for electing Republican governors, such as current Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA), and former Govs. Mitt Romney and William Weld (R-MA). Yes, these are more moderate Republicans, but the state is not always a lock for Democrats.

“A Party Divided” – I make the point that few state parties have a lock on any office or constituency. There are intra-party fights. Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA) lost his primary race last week to Ayanna Pressley, a more progressive-liberal candidate, compared to the more moderate Capuano. There is no Republican nominee, so Pressley will be the new member of Congress. There are other districts like this across the United States.

“IntraParty Fights” – The big political trend to watch this year is not Republican v. Democrat. It’s the intraparty fight in both parties. For Democrat it’s the battle between more moderate-centrists and the more liberal-progressive wings of the party. For Republicans it’s the battle between the Donald Trump faction which now runs the party versus the “Never Trumpers” who are more centrist, traditional members of the GOP more inclined to accommodation and compromise with Democrats. The collective will – and direction - of each party is at stake.

“The Politics of Nuance” – I’ve been covering politics for over 40 years, so I hope I have some degree of credibility. I get frustrated with my fellow reporters in the news business who declare certain states as “red states” or “blue states” as if it is cast in concrete, and the results are inevitable. The great lesson of the 2016 campaign is that things move, evolve, and change. The notion that the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were simply a slam dunk for Democrats, was debunked when candidate Donald Trump won all three on the way to the White House. The lesson: Don’t assume anything!

What are your predictions for Campaign 2018? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states, and the District of Columbia.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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