Senate race could spoil GOP's plans to replace Ginsburg

WASHINGTON — Arizona's critical Senate race has suddenly taken on extra weight since Democrat Mark Kelly could potentially be sworn in early enough to vote on a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg if he wins.

Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords, is favored to prevail over appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally. And Arizona law indicates he could be sworn in by Nov. 30, during the lame-duck session of Congress when Republicans may try to push through a Ginsburg replacement if they are unable to do so before the election.

That could potentially narrow Senate Republicans' current 53-to-47 majority as they rush to fill the vacancy on the high court before January when a new Congress and possibly new president will be sworn in. Right now, four Senate Republicans would have to defect to block an appointment, but if Kelly is in office, then only three would need to bolt. And all eyes are currently focused on three possible GOP defections — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has already vowed to move ahead with a vote on President Donald Trump's yet-to-be-named nominee and McSally is on board with the plan.

"This U.S. Senate should vote on President Trump's next nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court," the Republican former fighter pilot said on Twitter Friday. She also praised Ginsburg as someone who "broke barriers for all women."

The Arizona race, while occurring on Election Day Nov. 3, is technically a special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Republican Sen. John McCain. McSally was appointed to fill the seat until the election, and lawyers from both parties told the Arizona Republic the winner of that election could be sworn in early under state law.

It's unclear, however, if McConnell or Arizona GOP Gov. Doug Ducey could delay Kelly's induction to the Senate.

"Justice Ginsburg dedicated her life to making our country more just," Kelly said on Twitter. "She fought cancer with the same ferocity she fought for civil rights and left a legacy that impacted women's rights and equal protection under the law — she will continue to be a role model for so many."

Kelly has outraised McSally $46 million to $30 million and both campaigns are now likely to be inundated with a flood of money.

Progressives exhorted their followers on Twitter to open their wallets for Kelly and give as much as possible, while liberal and conservative groups have already started running ads to try to influence the outcome in Arizona and other critical Senate races.

A recent New York Times/Sienna College poll showed Kelly leading 50-42 percent, while a Monmouth University poll showed a narrower lead for Kelly of 50-46 percent among likely voters.

"This race was already as high stakes as it could possibly get," said Andy Barr, a Democratic strategist with the firm Saguaro Strategies, which works in Arizona. "It was already going to potentially determine the majority of the Senate. It was already going to potentially determine the success or failure of the next Supreme Court nominee. And Joe Biden needs Mark Kelly to do well to help him win the state."

Both presidential campaigns are competing vigorously for Arizona — Vice President Mike Pence visited the state Friday — and Barr said the airwaves are already approaching saturation with political ads.

"It might be that it's just not even possible to buy a television ad in Arizona in October," he said.