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Political money flows as both parties gear up for Supreme Court fight

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg set off a wave of political fundraising on Saturday, leading both Democrats and Republicans to ready tens of millions in spending ahead of the fight to replace the late Supreme Court justice.

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Dan Merica
Fredreka Schouten, CNN
CNN — The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg set off a wave of political fundraising on Saturday, leading both Democrats and Republicans to ready tens of millions in spending ahead of the fight to replace the late Supreme Court justice.

Few political issues move people into their political corners more than a Supreme Court fight and less than 24 hours after Ginsburg's death at 87, it was clear that both parties were preparing for the November election to center on the possibility of President Donald Trump helping install a third Supreme Court justice.

Democratic money began flooding in shortly after Ginsburg's death was first announced.

ActBlue, the 16-year old group that provides Democrats with their primary online fundraising platform, said that the three biggest fundraising hours in their history happened on Friday night, with the 10 p.m. ET hour leading the way, followed by the 9 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. ET hours. In total, between 8 p.m. ET and midnight on Friday night, the group processed more than $20 million in donations.

The historic hours led ActBlue to a massive haul. In the 12 hours between 9 p.m. ET on Friday -- shortly after the news broke that Ginsburg had died -- and 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, the Democratic platform processed more than $30 million donated to Democratic candidates and causes.

A sizable portion of that money went to a fund started by Crooked Media that aims to end Republican control of the Senate and force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell into the minority.

The fund, which according to a spokeswoman had raised $3.5 million since it was founded in July 2019, raised a sizable $12.5 million since 8 p.m. ET on Friday, the hour when Ginsburg's death was announced. The fund supports Senate campaigns in Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Montana, Iowa, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Alaska, South Carolina, Texas and Kansas.

The fight over yet another Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice, this time less than two months before the November general election, has quickly reshaped the campaign, adding yet another variable into an already unpredictable election. Although the fight is not expected to completely overshadow the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it will serve both sides of the political fight as a way to rally the base.

Trump has already successfully confirmed two Supreme Court justices -- Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh -- and the President had been running on his success confirming conservative jurists even before Ginsburg's passing.

McConnell said on Friday night that he would ensure that a Supreme Court nominee from Trump would get a vote on the Senate floor, despite the Republican leader denying then-President Barack Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in the final year of his presidency.

Operatives from both parties believe that a Supreme Court fight could help them in November, something that became apparent as Democratic and Republican groups prepared to spend millions on the Supreme Court fight in the hours after Ginsburg's death.

Demand Justice, a Democratic group aimed at fighting Trump's judicial appointments, plans to spend $10 million on an ad campaign to argue Ginsburg's vacancy shouldn't be filled until after inauguration, the group's head, Brian Fallon, told CNN on Friday night.

"Make no mistake: any Supreme Court with a Trump justice confirmed to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat at this point in the calendar would be fundamentally illegitimate, and Democrats must be prepared to act accordingly."

And Republicans plan to open the financial spigot as they gear up for a fierce battle over the Supreme Court vacancy.

"The budget is whatever it takes," Carrie Severino, who runs the influential conservative Judicial Crisis Network, told CNN on Saturday. Her group spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to first block efforts by Obama to install Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court in 2016 and then to back Trump's successful nominees to the high court.

"This an incredibly energizing issue for conservatives," she said. "You saw that in 2016. Having a vacancy staring you in the face and Donald Trump with his list of nominees really, I think, changed the election. People are no less excited about the Supreme Court in 2020."

Donors, she said, "realize the incredible significance of the Supreme Court vacancy and know it's going to be a major battle."

She pledged a "state-of-the-art campaign" that will include TV, digital, radio and mailings. Severino said her group plans to work with a coalition of conservative groups that she said is "primed and ready to go," following the contentious Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmation battles.

There's no reason to delay the nomination, she added.

"When you consider the significance of the cases the court will be deciding this fall and going forward and the potential cases that could come up with the election, operating short-handed doesn't make sense," Severino said.

And the White House, which released an updated list of Trump's potential Supreme Court picks earlier this month, is "clearly ready for this. There is no need for delay at all."

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has not released a list of his Supreme Court choices.

Severino said conservatives plan to target Biden in the weeks ahead as they ramp up their advertising to support Trump's pick. The difference between the candidates could not "be more stark," she said.

"Trump has been committed to transparency on this issue," Severino said. "Biden is trying to play the moderate, but he's trying to bend over backwards and placate the most liberal factions within his base. He doesn't want to commit on anything."

Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and Trump supporter, said the vacancy and Trump's "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to realign the court "galvanizes conservatives -- donors and voters."

"If you were a Republican who was put off by Trump's personal style, the opportunity to appoint a conservative judge overrides those concerns," he added.

Neither the Trump nor Biden campaigns would comment about how much they've raised since Ginsburg's death. But both camps have fundraised off the vacancy.

"Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an amazing woman who led an amazing life," read an email from the Trump campaign. "The President is right, we have an obligation to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, without delay!"

And Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Biden's running mate, penned an email sent by the Biden campaign.

"We cannot let them win this fight," Harris wrote. "Millions of Americans are counting on us to stand up, right now, and fight like hell to protect the Supreme Court -- not just for today, but for generations to come."

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