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Kavanaugh fires up voters on both sides

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- Abby Levine was so upset by Brett Kavanaugh's potential confirmation for a U.S. Supreme Court seat that it gave her an extra reason to spend the past few days volunteering for Stacey Abrams' Democratic campaign for governor.

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Greg Bluestein
Amanda C. Coyne, Cox Newspapers

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- Abby Levine was so upset by Brett Kavanaugh's potential confirmation for a U.S. Supreme Court seat that it gave her an extra reason to spend the past few days volunteering for Stacey Abrams' Democratic campaign for governor.

Darla Williams was so disappointed by the "witch hunt" targeting President Donald Trump's nominee for the high court that last week she started canvassing her neighborhood to support Republican Brian Kemp's bid for the top state office.

Georgia Democrats hope the outrage over Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing will spark a backlash from female and independent voters who are furious about the sexual assault allegations swirling around the nominee.

But Republicans are banking on an aftershock of their own to help vulnerable incumbents and challengers, and give conservatives a sense of momentum a month ahead of the midterm vote.

It exemplifies the intense polarization over Kavanaugh, who quickly became a Rorschach test in U.S. politics last week during a fraught U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Kavanaugh has denied Christine Blasey Ford's accusation that he sexually assaulted her when both were in high school 36 years ago, and he angrily cast his confirmation process as "a national disgrace" and "a calculated and orchestrated political hit" conducted by the Democrats.

His supporters are rallying behind him in what they see as a potentially legacy-making appointment on the court.

His opponents, meanwhile, express outrage that Ford's allegation has not disqualified Kavanaugh -- the FBI this week launched an investigation -- and hope to unleash a wave of fury among voters who are critical of Trump at a volatile political moment.

It's already reverberating across Georgia politics. Both Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath, who are each running for competitive U.S. House seats in Atlanta's suburbs, demanded that Republican incumbents disavow Kavanaugh.

And Abrams, who has largely stuck to state issues in her campaign for governor, has recently focused on Kavanaugh at campaign stops and in fund-raising appeals ahead of a key deadline.

"I'm winning women. And I think if Brett Kavanaugh is endorsed and he is put on the Supreme Court, given that my opponent has said he believes not the survivor but someone that had a temper tantrum in a hearing," she said during a recent campaign event in Brookhaven, "I think that's going to help us get further and further along the line and across the finish line to governor."

Kemp wrote a letter of support for Kavanaugh over the summer, and he said Tuesday amid a bus tour across the state that he hasn't changed his mind.

"It's firing our supporters up. I'm trusting in our two senators to go through the process and hear everything there is to hear, but I think people are fed up with it," Kemp said. "Based on what we know now, he should be confirmed. But we have a new process with the FBI ... and I'll support that."

At a Kemp rally in Cartersville, U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk took it a step further.

"If you want the drama in D.C. for the next four years -- for what they did to Brett Kavanaugh -- then stay home," he told a crowd of more than 50 supporters outside a Cartersville museum. "If not, talk about what we stand for."

Kavanaugh could figure in more such drama. Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of DeKalb County, who could head a House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees federal courts if Democrats win control of the House in November, has said he might open an investigation if Kavanaugh wins confirmation.

Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, thinks "Johnson's opinion is going to help us keep the majority."

"I just appreciate Hank Johnson putting into words what we've been telling the American people: that the Democrats have no plans for the future," Collins said. "They simply want to tear down the president and continue to use their platform to try to relitigate the 2016 presidential election."

Johnson isn't worried that his party's outrage over Kavanaugh could rally the Republican base.

"Republicans are trying to do what they can to try to pump up and invigorate the sagging energy and enthusiasm of their voters, and that's why Trump said that maybe this investigation, maybe it's a good thing that this is happening," Johnson said. "He's trying to use it to pump up his base, and that's what all Republicans in the Trump Republican Party are trying to do at this point."

Johnson said an investigation into Kavanaugh "should be for the truth and to do what's right."

"This is more than just about partisanship and trying to win an election," he said. "This is for the future of this nation, the soul of this nation is under attack. When you put folks like Brett Kavanaugh into high places, it does not serve the future for this nation well at all."

A mixed bag?

National Democrats already sense the beginnings of a Kavanaugh backlash. ActBlue, the online transaction service founded in 2004, said it raised a record $10 million to support Democrats on Friday -- the day after the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing -- from small-dollar donors.

Republicans see their own signs of blowback. Josh Holmes, a former aide to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, predicted the hearings would alienate Democrats in red states and said it amounted to "dropping a grenade into the electorate."

And Kemp's supporters hope the hearings could give him an unexpected bounce as he aims to close an already-gaping gender gap. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows Kemp with a wide lead over Abrams among men, while Abrams has a double-digit edge among women.

Mark Rountree, a Republican pollster with Landmark Communications, released a poll Monday that showed a plurality of likely Georgia voters backing Kavanaugh's confirmation.

He suspects that the "publicity and partisan display" surrounding Kavanaugh's nomination has likely hurt Democrats. Since Georgia is a conservative-leaning state, he said, "when news or events are perceived as partisan, it generally helps Republicans."

That was echoed by Barbra Fairbank, who arrived with a friend for a Kemp stop in Ellijay that filled to capacity so quickly that people were turned away an hour ahead of time.

"Right now, they're trying to make it that you're guilty until proven innocent," said Fairbank, who added that she welcomes the FBI investigation. "She needs to be investigated. It's only fair."

And Williams, who owns a social marketing firm, called the Kavanaugh investigation nothing short of a "persecution."

"It makes me a lot more willing to knock on doors. We started up again this past week," she said. "I was going to do it anyways -- but it sure got me started earlier."

Democrats are eager to talk about the nerve that Kavanaugh struck. Ricardo Newball, a retiree, panned the nominee's "screaming" about his innocence and said he should have welcomed an FBI investigation earlier. He cast his opposition to Kavanaugh as a way to send a message to Trump.

"He's on record as protecting the president," Newball said. "That's one of the reasons Trump wants him."

As for Levine, she traveled to Atlanta for a few days to make calls and reach out to voters on Abrams' behalf. To her, Kavanaugh adds to a lengthy list of reasons she's devoting her time to stump for a Democratic candidate hundreds of miles from her home in Washington.

"I'm seeing the energy among women, as candidates, as activists -- that's motivating me," she said. "I live one mile from the Capitol, and I don't feel like what's coming out of that building represents my values."


Staff writers Jennifer Brett and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this article.

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