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Both Sides Of Abortion Rights Debate Mobilized Over Supreme Court Nominee


I have a 14-year-old. I would not want him to be governor of Vermont (laughter) or any other state. But let me turn us to the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is of course a big issue for senators up for re-election this year. President Trump's nominee for the court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will be on Capitol Hill tomorrow meeting with two of them - Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. These are both Democrats trying to get elected again in states that Trump won, so they are seen as vulnerable and as potentially persuadable. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, a lot of money and manpower is being used to sway senators caught in the middle.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: It's not every midterm election year that a Supreme Court seat is vacant, much less the court's swing vote. So activists are out in force, especially in places like Indiana where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is up for re-election. President Trump won there by nearly 20 points.


MCCAMMON: On a sunny afternoon last week in Indianapolis, a bus bearing a giant picture of Kavanaugh's face pulled up in front of the state capitol. Janae Stracke is the national field director with Concerned Women for America.

JANAE STRACKE: We believe he is the next great justice, and we're so excited about this. President Trump is following through on his word.

MCCAMMON: Stracke noted that many Republican voters said they were motivated to turn out for Trump in 2016 because of concerns about the balance of the Supreme Court. She wants voters to send a similar message to their senators ahead of the November election.

STRACKE: And that's why we want to continue to rally support and talk to some of the senators like Senator Donnelly.

MCCAMMON: Donnelly voted to confirm President Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. He's now under pressure from conservative activists to back Kavanaugh, whose confirmation is expected to come to the Senate floor just weeks before Donnelly faces voters on Election Day. On the other side of the country, Republican Senator Dean Heller is running for re-election in Nevada, a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Last week, a group of women dressed in matching purple NARAL Pro-Choice America shirts stopped by his Reno office.

SANDY MILLER: I am the last year of the baby boomers, and people in my age did this already.

MCCAMMON: As the women gathered around the front desk, 54-year-old Sandy Miller told a staff member she worries Kavanaugh would vote to roll back abortion rights.

MILLER: We've already fought this fought based on what people wanted, what women wanted. And Senator Heller needs to stand up for us. So we're asking him, please. He needs to reject Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.

MCCAMMON: Kavanaugh's opponents are taking a similar message to the airwaves and online in states with Republican senators considered potentially persuadable. Planned Parenthood has a six-figure ad campaign in Maine and Alaska focused on Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who've supported abortion rights in the past.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And I'm the voice of a lot of women of my generation who died from an illegal abortion.

MCCAMMON: Abortion is a major focus of the fight over Kavanaugh, but other issues at stake are also part of grassroots lobbying efforts like letter writing and phone banks and ad campaigns like this one from the health care advocacy group Protect Our Care.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: This is an emergency. President Trump has already gone to court to overturn health care protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

MCCAMMON: The group is investing a quarter of a million dollars so far on ads opposing Kavanaugh in Alaska, Maine, Nevada and Washington, D.C. Millions are also going into ads to support him. One of the biggest campaigns to the tune of $4 million is being led by the Judicial Crisis Network with a heavy focus on more conservative states, including Indiana, that have Democratic senators. Another big spender - the National Rifle Association.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Tell your senator, defend our right to self defense. Confirm Judge Kavanaugh.

MCCAMMON: As senators like Donnelly and Heller weigh their decision, activists on both sides are sending the message that how they vote on Kavanaugh will determine which of their constituents show up in November. Sarah McCammon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.