Women's March activists try to turn up heat on GOP before Election Day

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CHICAGO — With less than four weeks to go before the midterm elections, tens of thousands of activists are expected to descend on Chicago and Massachusetts Saturday to urge voters — particularly women — to head to the polls and express their anger about the GOP-led Senate’s confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The demonstrations dubbed “March to the Polls” are follow-ups to the Women’s March movement sparked by President Donald Trump’s election victory. The marches drew hundreds of thousands to rallies in every state and more than 30 countries to denounce the administration.

Organizers expect as many as 350,000 to take part in Saturday’s downtown Chicago rally. Meanwhile, planners in Massachusetts have called on women and allies to take to the streets at a time of their choosing Saturday and hold up handmade signs that express their concerns about issues impacting women.

Crowds started forming early Saturday in Chicago and several candidates set up booths to pitch their platforms and recruit volunteers.

One candidate, Ja’Mal Green, who is running in February’s non-partisan mayoral election in Chicago, even set up a punching bag with a photo of Kavanaugh on it. The left-leaning crowd was invited to use the bag to release their frustration.

Jane Christie, 63, made the 90-mile drive from nearby Iroqouis County, Illinois to be part of the march.

Christie said she was frustrated by the Kavanaugh confirmation process and that it brought up ugly memories of being harassed by boys and teachers during her high school days.

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At home, she said she’s sparred with her husband, who she described as a Fox News-watching Republican, over the Kavanaugh confirmation. They’ve come to a sort of detente; Christie says her husband turns off the news network when she enters the room.

In recent weeks, she’s made a small donation to a Democrat running in a hotly-contested House race in the Chicago suburbs and she’s signed up to do phone banking on behalf of Democrats during the final weekend before next month’s midterm elections.

“I feel confident that the tide is turning but I also felt confident before 2016 and see what happened,” she said. “I’m nervous.”

Dee Dee McCarthy, 62, said she traveled from South Bend to express her anger with the Trump administration over Kavanaugh and tax cuts and also to make amends.

McCarthy, who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination fight, sat out the general election.

“I was so mad about how the Democratic Party treated Bernie that I refused to be part of it,” she said. “I feel so much guilt for that. That’s why I am here.”

The Women’s March organizers also held large rallies around the United States in January, near the one-year anniversary of Trump’s time in the White House, to demonstrate that resistance to the administration hadn’t ebbed.

More: Gender wars: Women were driving the midterms for Democrats. Can a backlash boost the GOP?

More: ‘The real march is on Election Day’: Women march around the world for a second day

This time, organizers for the rallies — the first of several that are planned for around the country in the coming weeks — said they want to use the moment to get women and their allies to the polls and bolster get-out-the-vote efforts before the midterms.

The Senate’s vote this month to narrowly confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after contentious hearings is energizing women to head to the polls, march organizers say. Kavanaugh was confirmed after facing allegations from Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her at a house party when both were teens. The justice has denied the allegations.

“Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court really underscored the tangible effects of electing people that don’t align with your values and ethical viewpoints,” said Claire Delaney Shingler, executive director of Women’s March Chicago. “People are looking backwards from (the Kavanaugh confirmation) and saying had the November 2016 election had a different outcome, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Women by a 63 percent to 33 percent margin say they are more likely to vote for the Democratic congressional candidate in their district, rather than the Republican, according to a CNN poll published this week. Men by five percentage points, 50 percent to 45 percent, said they were more likely to vote for the Republican candidates on their ballots, the poll found. 

Republicans, however, say that Kavanaugh was unfairly treated by Democrats. Anger over the confirmation fight is energizing voters on the right to head to the ballot box. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP officials predict that the Kavanaugh fight will help the GOP gain seats in the Senate and perhaps head off a “Blue Wave” in the House.

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Some polling suggests that road has become more difficult for Democrats in the Senate.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, who opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination is trailing her Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, 53 percent to 41 percent, according to a recent Fox News poll. Thirty-four percent of likely North Dakota voters surveyed before the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh said they were less likely to vote for Heitkamp if she cast a ballot against him, while 17 percent said they were more likely to vote for the Democratic senator if she voted against his confirmation.

In Tennessee, polls show Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, saw a surge in support in her race against Democrat Phil Bredesen as Kavanaugh’s confirmation process played out in Washington. Bredesen, a former Tennessee governor, saw his support slip despite saying he supported Kavanaugh’s nomination.

In Nevada, incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican who has been locked in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, saw his poll numbers improve in the midst of Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

But one poll published earlier this week that showed Heller with a 46 percent to 44 percent lead also indicated Nevada voters were divided on Kavanaugh. The NBC/Marist poll found that 38 percent of likely voters saying they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Kavanaugh, while 41 percent said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who opposed Kavanaugh.

The March organizers have partnered with the group Swing Left, which is behind get-out-the-vote and fundraising efforts for Democrats in 84 House districts that were won by a margin of 15 percent or less in the 2016 election cycle. Forty-one of 84 candidates backed by Swing Left’s are women and 23 of those female candidates are taking on a male incumbent.

Democrats have to net at least 23 additional seats to win control of the House.

In Illinois, there are four hotly-contested House races where GOP incumbents are trying to fend off Democratic challenges. Participants at the Chicago march will be encouraged to get involved in those races as well competitive races in Wisconsin and Minnesota, organizers said.

The rally will start at Grant Park in the heart of downtown and organizers say they intend to honor first-time voters. After the rally, organizers plan to march 2018 first-time voters several blocks to a nearby early voting site where the newly-registered voters can cast their ballots.

“Women have said no, we will not stand for this,” said Vanessa Wruble, executive director of March On, the coalition of groups that have organized the Women’s Marches around the nation. “Our country will not stand for elected leadership that blatantly disregards credible accusations of sexual assault against a Supreme Court nominee.”

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