Democrats mounted an organized effort on Wednesday to push Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin to say if he would vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who President Donald Trump has nominated to fill Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
After the nomination was announced Monday night, Hugin said in a statement that he would wait for the judge’s confirmation hearing to say whether or not he supported Kavanaugh, who has served as a federal appeals court judge since 2006.
But, a slew of Democrats called for Hugin to take a more distinct stance on Wednesday, with calls from State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch).
“Mr. Hugin openly supported President Trump’s pick of Neil Gorsuch, and now has taken a ‘wait and see’ stance on Kavanaugh,” Pallone said in a statement. “Mr. Hugin’s lack of conviction shows that he is simply a rubber stamp for Donald Trump. Kavanaugh would also do the President’s bidding on the Supreme Court.”
Hugin’s been relatively quiet on the issue – both members of New Jersey’s U.S. Senate delegation, including U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, against whom Hugin is running, have come out in opposition to Kavanaugh.
But, that silence doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s trying to toe the line to draw in voters from both sides of the aisle and avoid alienating the same.
“I think it’s valid to say, ‘I want to learn more about his guy before I form an opinion,’” said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Instutute. “I don’t think anybody says that that rings hollow. I think that sounds deliberative.”
Still, Rasmussen said that though Hugin was well within his rights to want to know more about the nominee before making a decision, the candidate’s likely trying to play both sides.
By staying quiet, Hugin can attempt to pull in both pro-choice voters that he made a play for in early June and pro-life voters that want the U.S. Supreme Court filled with justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, which Hugin has said he considers settled law.
“I do think he’s trying to have it both ways,” Rasmussen said. “Again, I think it’s ok for him to sound deliberative, but I also think that what the Democrats are trying to say is, ‘you say you’re pro-choice. If you’re pro-choice, let’s talk about this nominee who very well may be the guy who overturns Roe v. Wade.’”
Trump has alternatively promised to fill the land’s highest court with pro-life justices and to not ask candidates for the bench about their views on Roe v. Wade.
Kavanaugh, a conservative and former staffer in President George W. Bush’s White House, has earned the support of pro-life groups but hasn’t said he would overturn Roe.
But, the perception of a threat to landmark 1973 decision is enough to mobilize some voters, and Democrats are using Kavanaugh’s nomination to rekindle a 90’s-era strategy to target female voters in New Jersey’s suburbs by leveraging abortion rights and gun control.
“This seems like it’s right out of that playbook, and it’s probably smart politics on that score,” Rasmussen said. “But, I’ve been skeptical that he was going to get a lot of pro-choice voters anyway given his proximity to Donald Trump and his relationship with Donald Trump.”
However effective that strategy proves, Hugin’s sticking to his guns for now and waiting until Kavanaugh’s confirmation process moves forward before weighing in.
“While Senator Menendez embarrasses himself by pandering to partisan special interests and abandoning his constitutional duty to carefully vet Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications, Bob Hugin is joining with people like Democratic Senators Heitkamp, Donnelly, and Manchin in carefully weighing the facts before making one of the most important decisions a Senator can make,” said Hugin communications director Megan Piwowar.
There is some precedent to a Republican U.S. Senate candidate disclosing their position on a Supreme Court nominee made by a Republican president.
In 2006, State Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) announced that he supported Bush’s nomination of New Jersey resident Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O’Connor. Kean’s support came 117 days after the president announced his pick, and the day after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines to release Alito’s nomination.
Still, Kean was the first Senate candidate to say where he stood on Alito.
Kean used his announcement to challenge Menendez and Sen. Frank Lautenberg to “not only come out and publicly support Alito, but to lead the fight in DC for his confirmation.”
Menendez had been sworn in as a U.S. Senator eight days earlier.