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Monday, July 22, 2024

Kavanaugh mess tests women’s support

Protesters opposed to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, demonstrate in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

For women like Jayne A. Cordes, the steady stream of investigations in Washington is exhausting. That’s why, when Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her more than three decades ago, it struck Cordes as the latest example of the ceaseless — and needless — drama in the capital.

“It’s shenanigans,” said Cordes, an independent who voted for President Donald Trump and lives in the suburbs south of Denver. “It just seems like everybody is open to any kind of allegation because they don’t like Trump.”

But the 59-year-old real estate agent was less dismissive toward Ford herself. “If it’s legitimate, she has a legitimate complaint,” Cordes said, her voice softening. “You don’t want her to be right, because it’s a horrible situation.”

More than 1,100 miles east, Carole Vienneau, a 61-year-old Democrat from Nashville, Tennessee, said it was “only fair” the FBI investigate Ford’s accusations as she has requested.

“This is a lifetime position,” she said. “He’s going for the Supreme Court.”

Gail Zika, 74, who is also a Nashville Democrat, said Ford appears to have a “legitimate claim.”

“I don’t think somebody as educated as she is is going to make this up,” Zika, a former college professor, said. “She needs to have the FBI investigate.”

The response of these women to the Kavanaugh fallout could be critical in the fight for Congress this fall. Republicans and Democrats are scrambling to win over the key voting bloc of suburban women ahead of the midterms. Interviews with nearly a dozen women across the country this week suggested a nuanced reaction to the news in Washington that could pose risks to both parties.

People hold signs of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at a rally and news conference Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at a Planned Parenthood office in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

GOP women and others who support Trump mostly said they still back Kavanaugh. Democrats, meanwhile, generally called for more investigations. Many of the women, regardless of their politics, expressed personal empathy for Ford as she steps into a national firestorm.

Ford has said that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed and tried to take off her clothes at a 1980s house party when they were both teenagers at elite private schools near Washington. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.

If the Senate GOP leadership moves forward with a vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, they run the risk of alienating female voters like Cordes in the Denver suburbs, where vulnerable Republican Rep. Mike Coffman’s campaign could play a role in deciding the House majority this fall.

There are challenges for Democrats too. Many Republicans said they were frustrated with the timing and saw it as a Democratic attempt to obstruct one of the president’s nominees to the nation’s highest court, which could energize them in November.

Norma Bozell, 63, lives in an affluent community in a Northern Virginia congressional district that stretches from the Washington suburbs to the rural part of the state. In this district, where Hillary Clinton easily defeated Trump, GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock is fighting for political survival.

Bozell, who describes herself as an independent, said she found the timing of the allegations suspicious and believed Kavanaugh was an “upstanding man” who was being “smeared” and that his family was being torn apart.

“I’m very disappointed in what seems to be a play of politics that (California Sen. Dianne) Feinstein has brought this out at the eleventh hour,” Bozell said.

Like Bozell, Republicans on Capitol Hill have said that Feinstein should have brought the information to the panel earlier. Feinstein has said she sought to protect Ford, whose letter to lawmakers outlining the allegation against Kavanaugh requested confidentiality.

Bozell said she wanted to see Ford testify on Capitol Hill and that if she won’t do so voluntarily, she should be subpoenaed. But Bozell also said that Ford’s “interpretation might be a lot different than what happened.”

“I remember when I was that age. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, especially if there’s alcohol involved,” she said. “Things could have been interpreted a little bit differently.”

Brooke DiStefano, 40, is a Democrat, and even she was somewhat dismissive of the allegations.

“It seems kind of silly because it’s high school,” the physician’s assistant said as she walked into a shopping mall in Lone Tree, Colorado.

DiStefano oscillated from strong skepticism to sympathy within a moment. She mused aloud that Ford just wanted attention “because the #MeToo movement is so popular,” but quickly added that the sort of assault Ford alleged happened “is an important issue.”

Also in Colorado, Linda Gumeson, 70, said she couldn’t believe allegations that were more than three decades old were being taken seriously today.

“If I could go back to high school and find everyone who tried to take advantage of us,” the Republican said, shaking her head. “It was different times.”

Gumeson, a Republican, said that times have changed, and she’s glad, but that she didn’t believe people should try to apply today’s standards retroactively.

“Thirty-six years, in high school,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”


Riccardi reported from Greenwood Village, Colorado. Summers reported from Great Falls, Virginia. Pace reported from Nashville, Tenn.


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