Outside groups gear up for expensive battle over Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court seat

A girl holds a candle in front of the Supreme Court buidling paying respect to Justice Ruth Bather Ginsburg af

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A girl holds a candle in front of the Supreme Court buidling paying respect to Justice Ruth Bather Ginsburg after she died, in Washington, DC, on September 18, 2020.
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Outside organizations are gearing up for a battle in the Senate over the Supreme Court seat once held by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Many of those leading the effort say the various campaigns will spend millions to sway lawmakers after President Donald Trump chooses Ginsburg's replacement, who died on Friday after serving on the court for over 20 years. 

The tactics of these groups from both sides of the political spectrum range from TV and digital ads, to producing opposition research on Trump's shortlist of potential candidates.  The moves come as Democrats and Republicans, from Trump to Democratic nominee Joe Biden to congressional lawmakers on Capitol Hill, are already at odds over whether a Supreme Court nominee should be brought up for a vote with just under 50 days until Election Day. 

Beyond the political issue based groups that will be involved with this bitter battle, super PACs backing both Biden and Trump are preparing for the upcoming Supreme Court debate in Congress to filter over to the presidential campaign. 

Max Steele, a spokesman for the pro-Biden super PAC American Bridge, says they already have been distributing opposition research on potential Supreme Court nominees. "We're focused less on jurisprudence and more on traditional oppo (ethics, finances, controversial statements, etc,)" Steele said on Saturday.

Josh Schwerin, the spokesman for Priorities USA Action, another pro-Biden super PAC, told CNBC that they're bracing for the Supreme Court fight to seep into the presidential campaign. 

"Our goal is and always has been to win the presidential election and that's where our focus will remain. We fully expect this fight over the Supreme Court to be part of that debate alongside the raging pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans while Trump fails to deal with it," Schwerin said. NBC News reported Saturday that deaths had passed 200,000, though the fatality count from Johns Hopkins University had not yet crossed the somber milestone. 

Priorities, Schwerin says, did their recent own polling of "low propensity Democratic voters" in battleground states. About 65% of those surveyed said a reason to be enthusiastic about Biden's candidacy is because, they say, he could appoint Supreme Court judges who "protect a woman's right to choose, keep environmental protections, and protect civil rights and voting rights," Schwerin says. 

Pro-Trump America First Action say they are gearing up to get involved with the upcoming fight in the Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, blocked President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, at the end of his second term as commander in chief. McConnell said at the time that he believed the next president should be the one to decide who gets to fill the late Antonin Scalia's seat.  McConnell now says that he intends to call for a vote on Trump's next nominee to the Supreme Court. The president tweeted on Saturday that he wants Republicans to move ahead "without delay" to replace Ginsburg.  

Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has emerged as a front-runner to fill the seat, according to NBC News.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a dark money conservative group which committed to spend $10 million in support of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, is prepared to invest that amount, if not more, on this next campaign, with some funds expected to go toward TV and digital spots, along with print and mailer advertisements. 

Carrie Severino, the president of the group, told CNBC on Saturday that they are set to "match" and "surpass" the spending of their progressive rivals, Demand Justice, who announced they would invest $10 million into the fight over Ginsburg's seat. Demand Justice is a liberal dark money group that has fought Trump and Republican efforts to confirm judicial nominees. They announced on Friday they would spend the massive total "to fight to ensure no justice is confirmed before the January inauguration." 

The Judicial Crisis Network plans to message, at least in part, that McConnell, Republican senators and Trump have the historical and political precedent on their side when it comes to confirming Supreme Court judges. When one party has control over the Senate and White House they can then push ahead with a Supreme Court nomination, regardless of the timing of the seat becoming vacant, Severino said after being asked about their messaging campaign. 

"We are going to have a state of the art campaign using whatever we need to win this fight," she noted. 

An outside group known as Fix Our Senate already published their first ad in the wake of Ginsburg's death. After highlighting McConnell saying he won't confirm Garland when Obama was president, the group then calls on viewers to reach out to their Senators to take a similar stance when it comes to Ginsburg's seat. 

The Article III Project, a 501(c)(4) organization founded by Mike Davis, a former advisor to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., when he led the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNBC they are gearing up for a battle over the eventual nominee. 

"This news just broke, but the Article III Project will be fully engaged to support and defend President Trump's nominee and ensure they receive a Senate floor vote," Davis said in a statement. He added they haven't decided the budget for the nomination process but they "will certainly be directing significant resources to this critical fight." 

The political advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood, who are staunch advocates of reproductive rights, are also plotting their latest Supreme Court campaign. They're planning to activate their own volunteer network and team up with their partners in an effort to remind senators how some have previously said a nominee should not be confirmed this close to an election, and how the next justice could decide the future of health care, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. There will be a new ad component to the larger campaign, this person added. 

This person declined to be named because their campaign is still in the planning stages.  The Republican lawmakers they're looking to target, this person explained, include Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.  Collins proved to be a pivotal vote in confirming Kavanaugh and is currently up for reelection in a race deemed a toss-up by the Cook Political Report. Gardner and Tillis are also in toss-up races. 

"Senators who stand with Trump now and allow him to fill this seat with an extreme nominee in the waning days of his term will be held accountable in November and they are going to be out of a job come January," Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood Votes is mobilizing supporters in every state across the country to ensure our rights, freedoms, and health care are protected." 

The Supreme Court  will consider the future of the Affordable Care Act just a week after the presidential election. 

A political advocacy organization backed by billionaire Charles Koch is preparing to get involved, provided the nominee is in line with their priorities, Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), told CNBC. They advocated for Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch when they were nominated. AFP announced at the time of Kavanaugh's confirmation they were committing seven figures to support his nomination. That campaign included paid advertising. 

Phillips is convinced Trump will select a Supreme Court nominee that will match the network's priorities, with particular focus on less government overreach.  With that in mind, he said their organization will likely be engaged this time around. 

"A Supreme Court confirmation is an absolute priority for us. It was for Kavanaugh. It was on Gorsuch. It will be and is a priority." 

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