The confirmation—or non-confirmation—of Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh following a sexual assault allegation by a high school classmate is likely to come at a political cost to Senate candidates from the winning party’s side come November, says Vanderbilt political scientist Bruce Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer, who has studied Congress for more than 40 years, is the co-editor of the influential anthology of modern congressional scholarship, Congress Reconsidered, now in its 11th edition.


“If the Republicans vote Kavanaugh’s nomination through, even after the woman making the accusations is heard by the committee, that’s likely to accrue some electoral advantage to Democratic Senate candidates, and if the nomination gets delayed, defeated or withdrawn because of this, then the advantage is likely accrue to Republican Senate candidates,” said Oppenheimer. “That is, the losing side will make more of an issue of it, and it will have more electoral payoff than the winning side.”


If the nomination should be derailed, Republicans will be able to rally their voters to the polls with the fear that losing the Senate will ruin their chances of filling Kennedy’s seat with an acceptably conservative justice. “The message will be ‘We can’t risk a Democratic Senate because it will make things difficult for our nominees,’” Oppenheimer said. “And that will be something Republicans will use to mobilize their voters in Senate elections.”


However, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, Democrats will cite it as evidence that the GOP doesn’t take women’s safety seriously, and use that as a rallying cry for their voters in November. Even if Kavanaugh’s accuser is treated with kid gloves during her testimony, if the Republicans on the committee vote to move the nomination forward, “they’ll be able to say, ‘She wasn’t believed. This is Anita Hill replayed,’ and they’ll get some mileage out of that,” said Oppenheimer, noting that women are already highly engaged in this election. “The flame is already lit, and this potentially just throws another log on the fire. The #MeToo movement is going on, there are more women candidates, the gender gap is larger in the electorate than it used to be and you have a president with a reputation with women is not particularly the best.”