None of the Democrats challenging incumbent Republican senators in competitive midterm races has said they would vote to confirm Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
While Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. received support from a majority of such challengers, the Democrats offer a striking contrast on Alito. Even though these Senate hopefuls will not have a say in the upcoming floor vote, political observers are closely tracking their public comments on the controversial nominee.
The question of whether to confirm Alito is politically difficult for Democrats running in red states. If they reject Alito, the candidates open themselves to obstruction criticisms. If they support Alito, they could alienate political donors.
All Democratic candidates surveyed by The Hill who answered definitively said they would vote against Alito, who would replace centrist Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The remaining candidates either provided no comment or did not respond.
Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) is the only Senate Democrat to speak out in favor of Alito.
Todd Gaziano, director for the Center for Legal and Judiciary Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said the lack of Democratic support for Alito is a function of candidates’ securing campaign contributions from liberal donors as “Howard Dean candidates.”
Sean Rushton, executive director with the Committee for Justice, said that Democratic challengers are following the lead of many Senate Democrats who decided to support Roberts and reject Alito in an effort to appear fair-minded. Rushton added that the judicial philosophies of Roberts and Alito were “almost indistinguishable.”
Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University Law School and an outspoken opponent of Alito, said Alito’s hard-right stance — specifically on abortion and presidential power — would remind voters in November of his confirmation, making him “the political gift that keeps on giving” for Democrats.
A spokesperson for Claire McCaskill, who is challenging Sen. James Talent (R-Mo.), said McCaskill is opposed to the Alito confirmation.
In a press release, McCaskill said, “Missourians want their senator to be an independent voice for their concerns, not a rubber stamp for the administration.”
McCaskill said, however, that she would oppose a Senate filibuster. Last year she said she would have voted for Roberts had she been in the upper chamber.
A spokesperson for Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., who is looking to unseat Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), said that Casey has not yet announced his position. Casey, an opponent of abortion rights, spoke out in favor of the Roberts nomination.
The Democrats seeking to challenge Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) are rejecting Alito.
Carl Frisch, a spokesman for Democratic candidate Paul Hackett, said that Alito is out of the mainstream and that his views on equality and corporate governance are unfit for the court.
A spokesperson for Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is vying with Hackett to face DeWine, said Brown would vote against Alito if given the opportunity.
Two candidates looking to unseat Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown and former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, have released statements on their opposition to Alito’s confirmation.
Brown described Alito as a “right-wing ideologue” and spoke of the importance of standing up against the confirmation. Whitehouse called on Chafee “to stand by a promise he made in 2000 to oppose any Supreme Court nominee who would put a women’s right to choose at risk and to filibuster.”
Chafee, whose reelection this year has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America, has not announced how he will vote on Alito.
Jon Tester and John Morrison, both challenging Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), have said they oppose the confirmation of Alito. Specifically addressing Alito’s failure to recuse himself in cases involving Vanguard Properties, through which Alito owned mutual funds, Tester said, “Alito is not a man of his word.”
Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is vying for the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), said that Alito would move the court “in a direction that this country should not be going.”
Turley predicted that the confirmation vote will be extremely close, much closer than the 78-22 vote confirming Roberts. But others said that the vote will not be a nail-biter and that Alito is heading to passage by a comfortable margin.
Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), who is running for the Senate seat held by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and supported Roberts’s confirmation, did not respond to a request for comment.
Others not responding included Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), who is challenging Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) in a primary, and Jim Pederson, who is running against Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).