Elena Kagan Takes Center Stage in 2010 Campaign Battles

Elena Kagan

In what is sure to be a heated midterm election year, Republicans and Democrats alike are already seizing on President Obama's nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court as a campaign issue.

"The nomination will be used for two things: raising funds and energizing the base to vote in 2010," an unnamed Republican source told the Hill. "It's all about turnout at this point."

The general consensus is that Kagan will ultimately be confirmed to the Court. Yet before she was officially nominated, a GOP strategist recently advised the party to prolong the confirmation process as long as possible, regardless of who was the nominee, Talking Points Memo reports.

"[I]t wouldn't take much GOP resistance to push a final vote into early August," said Curt Levey, director of the conservative Committee for Justice. "And, look, the closer we could get it to the election, frankly, the better. It would be great if we could push it past the August recess because that forces the red and purple state Democrats to have to go home and face their constituents."

He added, "There's everything to be gained from making the Supreme Court vacancy a campaign issue in 2010." Levey confirmed his sentiments with the Washington Post, saying, "If I think we get political advantage from this, why wouldn't we get an advantage from a longer nomination process?"

However, the confirmation process could put a couple of Republicans in an uncomfortable position. Seven Republicans voted to confirm Kagan as solicitor general this year and may feel pressured to reverse course.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has conferred with Mr. Obama over his nomination and is largely seen as a reasonable voice on the committee. He called Kagan an "excellent lawyer" during her solicitor general confirmation hearings and was one of the GOP senators to vote in her favor.

Yet the political climate has changed for Hatch, who has voted for every Supreme Court nominee in his 33-year Senate career, except for Mr. Obama's first pick, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

His GOP colleague from Utah, three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, was recently denied re-nomination by his own local party because he has worked with Democrats on a few issues. Hatch, who is up for re-election in 2012, may try to avoid the same fate by tacking right.

"I think you will see some Republican senators, moderates, giving very careful consideration to their vote on Elena Kagan," CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer said on the CBS "Early Show" this week. "In a way, a vote against her would be 'Tea Party insurance,' to let people know that they're moving to the right."

Hatch put out a statement that said, "Her previous confirmation, and my support for her in that position, do not by themselves establish either her qualifications for the Supreme Court or my obligation to support her."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) faces a tough primary challenge this year and is facing pressure from his ultra-conservative opponent, J.D. Hayworth, to oppose Kagan's nomination.

"Sen. McCain should know that we don't need a leftist, political activist with no judicial experience on the U.S. Supreme Court," Hayworth said in a statement. "Were I in the Senate, this nomination would be fought tooth and nail. Sen. McCain owes it to the people of Arizona to stand on the principles of this state and fight this nomination as well."

The Arizona primary will take place on Aug. 24, and Democrats in the Senate say they hope to hold a vote on Kagan's nomination by early August.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) was blasted by his primary challenger Rep. Joe Sestak for voting against Kagan for solicitor general.

"I expect Sen. Specter may backtrack from his earlier vote on Ms. Kagan this week in order to help himself in the upcoming primary election, but the people of Pennsylvania have no way of knowing where he will stand after May 18," Sestak said in a statement.

Specter, who has been losing ground to Sestak in recent polls, released a statement explaining that he voted against Kagan for solicitor general "because she wouldn't answer basic questions about her standards for handling that job." He said this time around, he will have an "open mind" about her nomination.

In Illinois, Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias railed against his Republican opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk, for his opposition to Sotomayor and pressed him to take a stance on Kagan.

"Congressman Kirk's opposition to Justice Sotomayor remains inexplicable and wholly out of touch with the people of Illinois, and one can only conclude that he prioritizes his good standing with extreme right-wing figures over what's best for our country," Giannoulias said in a statement. "Given the Senate's unique role in the Supreme Court process, candidate Kirk owes the people of Illinois an explanation for his opposition to Justice Sotomayor, as well as his position on General Kagan."

More on Elena Kagan's Nomination:

Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to Supreme Court
Sessions: Kagan Won't Shift Court on Abortion
Chip Reid: Why Kagan? In A Word: "Leadership"
Washington Unplugged: Elena Kagan Beyond the Gavel
Jan Crawford: Kagan Is a Strategic, Not Political Pick
Kagan "Honored and Humbled" by Nomination
Peter Maer: Obama Seeks to Frame Kagan Debate on on His Terms
GOP Hits Kagan's Lack of Judicial Experience
The Left Struggles to Define Elena Kagan
Obama Says Kagan "Embodies Excellence"
Photos: Elena Kagan
CBSNews.com Special Report: Elena Kagan