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Trump is driving women voters in Florida to Democrats. What will Kavanaugh do?

Six weeks before Election Day, women voters in Florida are giving Democrats a decided advantage.
Brett Kavanaugh.
Brett Kavanaugh.
Published Sep. 27, 2018

Today the central figures in Florida's critical races for governor and U.S. Senator are Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.

What happens 900 miles from Tampa Bay at the sensational hearing over sexual assault allegations, and especially whether it antagonizes many women viewers, very well could decide the winners of Florida's elections.

Already Republicans in Florida face an ominous shift toward the Democrats from women, who make up majority of the electorate. That's largely because of disenchantment with President Donald Trump, but the Kavanaugh nomination threatens to antagonize or drive even more women from the GOP.

"I'm absolutely concerned about the Republicans at the top of the ballot in Florida," said April Schiff, a Republican political consultant in Tampa. "The hard-core Republicans will vote for any candidate with an R next to their name. The problem is that Democratic women will turn out stronger than Republican women do. That's just a reality. They're more energized."

The danger of antagonizing a vast swath of female voters is not lost on Republican leaders in Washington. They remember the backlash against senators of both parties after the 1991 televised Anita Hill hearings featuring an all-male panel grilling Hill over her accusations that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas has sexualy harassed her.

For this hearing, Republicans have hired an outside lawyer — a "female assistant," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel called her — to question Ford, instead of the 11 men on the Judiciary Committee.
This is a very different time in American politics than 1991.

That hearing energized women voters to double the number of women elected to Congress. This year, on the eve Ford's appearance on Capitol Hill, Democratic-leaning women are already energized, turning out in massive numbers for marches and working to mobilize voters.

"We're seeing a lot of women who were not engaged in the 2016 cycle, getting out and talking to other women and working to mobilize other voters and getting engaged like never before," said Broward County-based Democratic strategist Ashley Walker, noting that many of the top issues in the state and federal races resonate especially strongly to women.

"Before the Affordable Care Act pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition," Walker said. "Republicans want to go back to the days when insurance companies don't have to cover women who have that pre-existing condition."

Another big difference from the Anita Hill era is the deep partisanship that exists today. That, say some political experts, minimizes the potential political fallout for Republicans.

"Tribalism trumps all today. People are, 'I am Republican' before 'I am woman,' said Ryan Wiggins, a Republican consultant from Pensacola, suggesting that ingrained partisanship will limit the potential fallout. "That said, a lot of moderates have left the Republican party, and we don't know where they will go this election.'

Six weeks before Election Day, women voters in Florida are giving Democrats a decided advantage.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum leading Republican Ron DeSantis by 9 percentage points and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson leading challenger Rick Scott by 7. Such lopsided margins are virtually unheard of in Florida where neck-and-neck races are the norm. A poll released last week by Thomson Reuters, Ipsos and the University of Virginia Center for Politics showed Gillum leading by 7, and Nelson and Scott neck and neck.

Women were a big factor in both polls.

In the Ipsos survey 52 percent of men said they approve of Trump's performance, while only 40 percent of women did. Fifty six percent of women supported Gillum, while 52 percent of men backed DeSantis.
"What we're seeing is people who strongly object to President Trump and that is driving them to do anything to show their objection. That is showing up in the governor's race even though that doesn't have much to do with the presidency," said.Ipsos Vice President Chris Jackson.

The public opinion gap between Florida women and men was even starker in the Quinnipiac poll: Men were closely divided between Gillum and DeSantis, while the Democratic nominee had a 20-point advantage with female Florida voters.

Asked about confirming Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, women opposed it 54 percent to 41 percent, while men supported it 55 percent to 40 percent.
Nancy Riley, a Republican state committeewoman in Pinellas County, supports the confirmation but had mixed emotions.

"I grew up in a time when women's voices were discounted. I want daughters and granddaughters to feel comfortable speaking up if something happened," she said.

"I don't want to discount what (Ford) is saying, but they had to reach down very deep to find women who may had possibly had something happen to them but can't quite remember," Riley said. "What can you do to defend yourself if somebody said that about you?"