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Could defending Brett Kavanaugh be GOP's rallying cry? What to watch in politics this week

FBI reopens Kavanaugh background check
FBI reopens Brett Kavanaugh background check 02:20
Will Kavanaugh help GOP bridge enthusiasm gap?

Republican candidates across the country have had a tough sell on the messaging front. Tax reform hasn't shaped up to be the political gift they hoped it would be, and they have been on the defense over their failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, as Democrats repeatedly hit them for opposing coverage for preexisting conditions.

Meanwhile, attempts to localize the races are immediately overtaken by the latest Trump tweet of the day or administration scandal.

Could defense of Brett Kavanaugh be the rallying cry the GOP needs to curb voter complacency and energize the base, especially in the key Senate states?

In Jasper, Indiana on Saturday, Republican Senate candidate Mike Braun told CBS News' Jack Turman that voter enthusiasm shifted for Republicans across the country when his opponent, incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, announced his opposition to Kavanaugh.

"The Earth shook a little bit," said Braun. Since President Trump nominated Kavanaugh for the position in July, Braun has pressured Donnelly to support Kavanaugh.

Before the Senate delayed the vote Friday, pending a renewed, limited FBI investigation, Donnelly, who was one of three Senate Democrats to vote for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, said in a statement that he would oppose Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Donnelly found Christine Blasey Ford's allegations are "disturbing and credible," and he also voiced his support for an FBI investigation into the allegations.

Asked if he thinks Donnelly will reconsider his opposition with an FBI investigation underway, Braun predicted a reversal from Donnelly would help Braun's campaign and his base.

"It would even move things further in my direction because it would show that he pretty well blows in the wind with whatever is politically expedient," Braun said.

When President Trump traveled to Wheeling, West Virginia to campaign for Republican Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey on Saturday night, Morrisey's best applause line was, "We must confirm Judge Kavanaugh." One of the loudest boos of the night was when Trump mentioned "Feinstein."

"The feedback we've seen on the campaign trail is that conservative voters feel what is going on in the Senate is a sham and a smear campaign," according to a senior aide working for Morrisey. "Republican voters see the Kavanaugh situation as just the latest battle in the left and the media's war against Trump."

Republican strategists believe that Democrats' attacks on Kavanaugh could boost Republican turnout in November, especially in key Senate races.

"Logically, it does make some sense that Republicans are enraged by this process and therefore red states are seeing a surge of intensity," said Josh Holmes, president and founding partner of Cavalry and former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Leader Mitch McConnell.  "The fact that most of the competitive senate races this year are located in deep red territory is where this begins to be problematic for Democrats.

"Democrats have obviously held a significant intensity advantage this cycle, but the Kavanaugh debate has changed that," Holmes continued. "West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, and Montana have all seen some obvious Republican surges in the last few days."

Democrats, however, are equally fired up about Kavanaugh and are hoping that the Republicans' efforts to get him onto the Supreme Court despite sexual assault allegations will hurt them with women voters across the country.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center showed that voter enthusiasm heading into the midterms is at record highs, especially among Democrats. So although Democrats are equally outraged about the Kavanaugh nomination, it is unclear if their intensity could get any higher than it already is.

Republicans are hopeful that Kavanaugh's nomination could help bridge this enthusiasm gap.

"The question is if the energizing of the conservative base is enough to neutralize the energy of the Left," said a veteran Republican strategist close to the Trump White House. "The key for the GOP is if they can make this nomination about Democrats gaming the system by delay and deceit. If they can make that the talking point, they have a shot at getting Trump's people out on November 6."

Two weeks ago, the midterm elections were unquestionably shaping up to be a referendum on Donald Trump, with Democrats appearing to have an enthusiasm advantage. After two weeks of Kavanaugh dominating the headlines, rather than Me. Trump himself, will Republican enthusiasm be able to catch up? Notably, in the season opener of "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, Trump's name was barely mentioned.

Key political events this week:

Monday, October 1:

-Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP)

-Trump MAGA rally in Johnson City, Tennessee

Tuesday, October 2:

-Trump MAGA rally in Southaven, Mississippi

-First Florida Senate debate in Miami

Thursday, October 4:

-Trump MAGA rally in Rochester, Minnesota

Friday, October 5:

-Debate in Iowa's first congressional district: U.S. Rep. Rod Blum vs. Democratic challenger, state Rep. Abby Finkenauer

Saturday, October 6:

-Trump MAGA rally in Topeka, Kansas

-Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to headline Iowa Democratic Party Fall Gala in Des Moines

-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to keynote NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Cincinnati, Ohio

Sunday, October 7:

-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) to keynote Ohio Democratic Party State Dinner in Columbus

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