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GOP women in hot seat over Trump mocking Ford, vote looming

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is escorted by U.S. Capitol Police as she is met by cameras and reporters asking about embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Collins was arriving to chair the Senate Special Committee on Aging. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump era has, at times, been uncomfortable for Republican women, especially the six senators who will be asked to vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation by week’s end.

On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump ridiculed Christine Blasey Ford, who accuses Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school — a claim Kavanaugh denies.

Recent polls show a majority of women think the Senate should not confirm Kavanaugh. But Republican women, like GOP men, are overwhelmingly sticking with the nominee.

A look at how it’s playing out for female Republican senators:

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THE CRITICAL TWO

In the Senate, the savage national debate over power and who to believe has above all been about the math. Two GOP votes against Kavanaugh’s confirmation sinks it if every Democrat votes no.

That’s put a pair of female Republican senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, under excruciating pressure.

Neither has said how she will vote. Each wants to see the results of the FBI investigation.

Collins on Wednesday called Trump’s scoffing at Ford “just plain wrong.”

Added Murkowski a few hours later: “I thought the president’s comments yesterday mocking Dr. Ford were wholly inappropriate and in my view unacceptable.”

Neither senator is up for re-election this year.

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TWO ON THE BALLOT

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith was rushing to a vote Wednesday when a woman shouted at her, “Do you believe survivors?”

Hyde-Smith didn’t answer. The Mississippi Republican, sworn in last April for a seat the GOP needs to keep, hopped on a Senate subway that sped her toward the Capitol. But she’s left no doubt where she stands on Kavanaugh. In her first speech on the Senate floor, she announced that it was her “duty” to support Kavanaugh. She made time to appear at Trump’s rally Tuesday night in Southaven, Mississippi.

Also on the ballot is Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, who is campaigning for a second Senate term. Protesters shouted at her on the way in and out of a hearing Wednesday.

Fischer has said she intends to support Kavanaugh, but added, “We’re going to see what the investigation brings, and let’s get the vote.”

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THE OTHER TWO

The two other Republican female senators say victims should be heard, but they want Kavanaugh confirmed.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Ford’s story hasn’t been corroborated and people should be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito — like Ford, a graduate of the Holton-Arms School — has said she supports Kavanaugh.

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ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

The Kavanaugh question followed some female Republicans on the campaign trail Wednesday.

Outside Phoenix, Rep. Martha McSally, a sexual assault survivor herself, said the issues raised by Ford are “pretty personal.” She’s running for a Senate seat in Arizona against Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.

McSally said that, if no additional information emerges from the FBI review, she supports confirming Kavanaugh. “Based on the information we have, we’re unable to corroborate with any other account what the allegations are,” she said Wednesday.

She added that she has sympathy for Ford and that people need to understand why sexual assault survivors stay quiet for years. Asked about Trump’s mockery in Mississippi, McSally said, “I’d prefer that we all have some grace here.”

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POLLING

The bad news for Republicans: Recent polls show that a majority of women do not think Kavanaugh should be confirmed. The good news: Republicans, women and men, are overwhelmingly sticking by the nominee.

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in the days after Ford and Kavanaugh testified showed that public opinion had started to tilt against Kavanaugh, with 48 percent of voters opposed to his confirmation and 42 percent in favor. A September Quinnipiac poll found a nearly even split in opinions on the confirmation.

Women were far more likely than men in the poll to oppose Kavanaugh, 55 percent to 40 percent. But 84 percent of Republicans said Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

Nearly 8 in 10 Republicans said they approve of how Trump has handled the allegations in the new poll, which was conducted before Trump mocked Ford at Tuesday night’s rally. About 6 in 10 said they approve of how Senate Republicans are handling the situation. Among Republicans, men and women were about equally likely to approve of both Trump and Republicans in the Senate.

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Associated Press writers Emily Swanson, Hannah Fingerhut, Lisa Mascaro and Padmananda Rama in Washington and Nicholas Riccardi in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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