WASHINGTON — The sexual assault accusation against Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh hasn’t just upended what was expected to be his relatively easy Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court. The allegation has also scrambled the political calculations for 10 Democratic senators running for re-election in states won by President Trump, particularly three moderate Democrats who had been weighing a yes vote.
Few politicians have a greater stake in Judge Kavanaugh’s fate than these 10 senators who are trying to appeal to red-state voters back home, and whose re-election bids will determine whether Democrats win control of the narrowly divided chamber in November.
Before Christine Blasey Ford accused Judge Kavanaugh of assaulting her when they were teenagers, many of these senators were simply happy that the Kavanaugh nomination hadn’t become a rallying cry for the conservative base. They hoped they could vote no without political consequences, because he was so likely to be confirmed with Republican votes, and then move on to more favorable terrain.
And for three of the most moderate Senate Democrats — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — the nomination represented an opportunity for them to vote yes on Judge Kavanaugh and demonstrate independence from their party and deny Republicans an issue in the fall campaign. The three had previously supported President Trump’s first nominee for the court, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
But Dr. Blasey’s accusation is now leading Senate Democrats to assess whether she has given them an easy pass to vote no on his nomination — or if they could face controversy over a 36-year-old allegation that they would rather not deal with in the midterm campaign.
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The political risks and opportunities for Democrats — and for the party’s Senate candidates in competitive races in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas — may not be clear until after Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is scheduled to do so on Monday; she has been invited to, but has called for an F.B.I. investigations of her allegation first.
Yet there is rising confidence among many leading Democrats that, at the very least, the claim of sexual misconduct deprives Republicans of a potent issue to wield against senators who vote no. Any Republican attacks over Judge Kavanaugh in a campaign-season debate, for example, could be met with a rejoinder about the assault allegation.
“This certainly changes the dynamic a lot,” said Senator Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, who himself will face a difficult re-election in 2020. “When allegations like this are raised, even with the timing, it changes the dynamic.”
Mr. Jones said that if he determines Dr. Blasey’s story is true, he “would not support his nomination.”
But in an illustration of how cautiously other red-state Democrats are still treading, Senator Manchin of West Virginia would not offer a similar vow, saying he didn’t want to speculate on what he may do.
“Everything should be taken serious and we should let the process continue,” he said in a brief interview.
Republicans close to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, say he will not back off his commitment to Judge Kavanaugh, in part because he believes the timing of the accusation is suspicious but also because he believes yanking the nomination would depress his party’s base in the midterms.
But Republicans acknowledge that, in pushing Judge Kavanaugh forward, they will only further imperil their House majority, which depends in part on a series of suburban districts filled with voters already enraged about Mr. Trump’s treatment of women.
For their part, many Senate Democrats are hoping that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is ultimately torpedoed by Republicans, who have a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate. Three key Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona — have expressed concerns about moving ahead with a vote on Judge Kavanaugh without hearing from Dr. Ford. If they were to band together to oppose his nomination, it could seal Judge Kavanaugh’s fate and force Mr. Trump to withdraw his pick — and all without Democrats having to step into the fray. (Such a scenario appeared more remote after Dr. Blasey’s lawyer indicated she would not testify until the F.B.I. investigates, however.)
Of the potential scenarios involving the outcome for Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, strategists in both parties agree that his withdrawal would be most politically damaging to Republicans. It would underscore the chaos surrounding Mr. Trump; amount to an acknowledgment that Mr. Kavanaugh is tarnished; and, by bowing to liberals demanding he not be confirmed, infuriate the conservative rank-and-file.
Democrats may not want him on the bench for a host of reasons, but Judge Kavanaugh narrowly winning confirmation would be politically tolerable to many of them, strategists say. Republicans may still target those Democrats who opposed him, but their attacks would be clouded by the assault allegation.
Where the two parties differ is on the possibility that the Kavanaugh nomination is brought to a vote and defeated. Democrats fear that would enrage Mr. Trump and his supporters, prompting them to show up at the polls to take out their anger on the opposition. But Republicans worry any failure to confirm him will demoralize their base.
More broadly for Democrats, though, is the question of just how much risk still remains with the vote.
Some in the party believe that Judge Kavanaugh is now tainted and that the charges have effectively freed red-state Democrats to oppose him.
“I think it’s an easy vote now,” said Kip Tew, a former Indiana Democratic chairman, adding that grass-roots activists would have a far more difficult time stomaching a “yes” vote from their senator in light of the claim of sexual misconduct. “I just don’t see how he can go to the base of the Democratic Party and vote yes given these revelations.”
Hoping to galvanize Democratic senators, a liberal group opposed to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination released a commercial Tuesday linking together Mr. Trump’s infamous comments on “Access Hollywood”; his support for Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls; and the accusation against Mr. Kavanaugh.
“We can’t let Brett Kavanaugh decide on our rights for a generation,” says the announcer in the ad produced by the group, Demand Justice. “Enough is enough.”
If the moderate Democrats do oppose Judge Kavanaugh, they will most likely not only cite Dr. Blasey’s story but also point to his views on the Affordable Care Act — an issue many of them have already homed in on during the campaign.
Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, a progressive who has been an outspoken supporter of Dr. Blasey, said there was any number of reasons her red-state colleagues could oppose Mr. Kavanaugh. And she sought to assure them that, because of the allegation, they could safely adjust their calculus on Mr. Kavanaugh.
“We’re in a different kind of environment now,” said Ms. Hirono, pointing to the fury of many women in the #MeToo and Trump era.
Yet there are some Democrats who are uneasy about the bulk of October being spent on the fate of Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court pick rather than on less polarizing matters.
“This close to an election, having an issue this significant out there, it’s not helpful at all to somebody running in a red state,” said Byron Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota.
And with Mr. Trump effectively unable to campaign in many competitive House districts because he is too unpopular, red-state Senate Democrats have little appetite to see him repeatedly return to their states in the last stages of the election as part of a Kavanaugh-driven revenge mission.
“It’s not easy,” said Natalie Tennant, a Democrat and former West Virginia secretary of state who ran for the Senate there in 2014. Referring to Senator Manchin, she said: “If he votes no, people will think he’s against Trump. If he votes yes, they’ll think he’s for Trump. Ultimately, he has to be for West Virginia.”
And what that means when it comes to Judge Kavanaugh is now a lot less clear.