OKLAHOMA CITY — Republicans may emerge the big winners heading into the midterm election next month following the divisive, partisan controversy swirling around Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings, some political observers say.
Before the recently confirmed U.S. Supreme Court justice faced probing questions about allegations of sexual misconduct and his treatment of women, Democrats were energized and seemed poised to post high turnout at November’s polls, said Trent England, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative-leaning think tank.
Polling indicated Republicans, meanwhile, didn’t have the same enthusiasm — until the controversy erupted, he said.
“That enthusiasm gap seems to be eliminated by all this,” England said.
Justin Kennedy, chair of the Cherokee County Young Republicans, said he expects more women will vote in the midterm elections because they’re concerned about the “political shenanigans” committed by Democratic leaders. Those voters realize that the left isn’t a safe place for “liberty-loving Americans,” he said.
“I believe that American mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers will go to the polls this fall with a new reason to vote for the party that believes in ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” Kennedy said. “They will be joined by young men and older gentlemen who realize that the political left could just as easily paint a target on them as they did Brett Kavanaugh.”
Kennedy said there has been talk of waves of voters coming to the polls in November.
“I believe that very well may be true,” he said. “However, the wave I see breaking on the horizon is red, not blue.”
While no one knows just how the Kavanaugh controversy will impact Oklahoma politics, national polling numbers seem to indicate that Republican enthusiasm has risen since the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, said David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank.
“The national pollsters are saying that it seems like some of the enthusiasm gap that had been benefiting Democrats may have shrunk or disappeared,” Blatt said. “But we don’t know if that’s temporary or if that will last over the next month.”
Blatt said the controversy seems to have exacerbated the gap between women, who typically lean more Democrat, and men, who often lean more Republican.
Sylvia Swan, of Muskogee, who is active in the county’s organization of Democratic women, said there will definitely be more voters of her demographic in November.
"I think we are going to see more people on the left turn out — both men and women — due to the blue wave movement and the governor’s election being at stake, which makes the midterms very important,” she said.
In particular, the Kavanaugh controversy may benefit Oklahoma Republicans if the high-profile, partisan fight nationalizes the state’s elections, Blatt said.
“I think Republicans in Oklahoma would prefer that this election be about control of Congress, and I think Democrats would prefer that this be a referendum on Republican government in Oklahoma,” Blatt said. “So to the extent that these midterm elections become nationalized, I think that will probably help Republicans in Oklahoma.”
The 2014 midterm election saw the poorest turnout in nearly two decades, said Bryan Dean, a spokesman with the Oklahoma State Election Board.
“Generally speaking, when you do not have an incumbent governor running for re-election, you see higher turnout,” he said.
Perhaps driven in part by a medical marijuana legalization ballot measure, increased voter registration and more candidates filing for office, 2018’s primary turnout alone surpassed even the 2014 general election totals, he said.
Rebekah Herrick, an Oklahoma State University political science professor, said she doesn’t think the hearings will affect turnout much. The Kavanaugh issue may energize people on the right and left, but they’d likely be voting anyhow, she said.
“For people more in the middle, if they have strong feelings they will likely have moved on to the next issue by Election Day,” she said. “It won't have much effect on the election outcomes. It is too much of Republican state for it to have much effect.”
But Democrat Gina McClure, of Buffalo, said the recent events have stirred something in women of all ages.
“Many I have spoken with have grown tired of feeling their voice is muted by the largely older, white males who make decisions in regard to women, which has motivated women to take a stand,” she said. “There are more and more women becoming involved through the #metoo movement, and there seems to be a surge of them appearing on the ballots. I think that we are seeing a shift, which is exciting, and will be reflected at the polls.”
The Muskogee Phoenix, Tahlequah Daily Press and Woodward News contributed to this report.