Democrats cede the airwaves in Gorsuch fight

Chuck Schumer Neil Gorsuch presser sot_00001425
Chuck Schumer Neil Gorsuch presser sot_00001425

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Story highlights

  • Democrats had spent just $180,000 on the television campaign vs. $3.3 million from Republicans
  • Some liberals are making a late effort to bolster their paid media

Washington (CNN)A battered Democratic Party has largely forfeited the fight on television over the fate of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, another sign of both Gorsuch's political strength and of Democrats' inability to focus on fighting the pick.

Just four days before Gorsuch appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic groups and committees have barely lifted an advertising finger in their quest to sink the nomination.
At the same time, Republicans are waging an eight-figure advertising campaign that is growing daily, an effort centered on the states that Senate Democrats vulnerable in 2018 call home. Conservative and GOP-related groups have outspent Democrats on TV by more than $3 million, according to Democrats and Republicans tracking the advertising figures.
    The Democrats' grogginess is a reflection, party strategists say, of their overextension, channeling energy and dollars toward a perhaps more winnable fight on defending Obamacare; of their depleted coffers following a costly 2016 presidential campaign; and of their poor political positioning, largely seeing Gorsuch as clean, qualified and tough to attack, at least before the hearings begin Monday.
    As of late Wednesday, Democrats had spent just $180,000 on the television campaign vs. $3.3 million from Republicans.
    "It's too bad that we have to deal with this, because when you have more money, you have a bigger megaphone to get your message out," said Marge Baker of People for the American Way, one of just two anti-Gorsuch groups spending money on the air. "They got the nominee they wanted and now they're investing huge bucks into trying to get him confirmed."
    The Republican spending machine is adding dollars on top of dollars -- the Judicial Crisis Network, the well-funded outside group doing the lion's share of the pro-Gorsuch advertising, has budgeted another $5.5 million to spend, and one pro-Trump nonprofit, Great America Alliance, on Wednesday unveiled a $3.5 million buy on top of that.
    Carrie Severino, who is leading JCN's work on the Gorsuch fight, said she was somewhat surprised by Democrats' lack of spending -- and that it was easier to make their argument on less-cluttered airwaves. The group stockpiled $10 million in money in advance of a looming Supreme Court fight.
    "They haven't had a clear mission to put ad money behind," Severino said, criticizing Democratic messaging as muddled.
    The 45Committee, a nonprofit largely funded by Sheldon Adelson, the GOP's most prolific donor, may also join the fray. And America First Policies, a group run by former Trump aides that has nevertheless been dogged by internal drama and funding problems, had also indicated it planned heavily on the Gorsuch fight -- though its ability to do so is now in question.
    A group spokesman Thursday did not answer when asked whether it still planned to advertise on the Gorsuch effort.

    Late effort from liberals

    Some liberals are making a late effort to bolster their paid media: the Constitutional Responsibility Project said Wednesday it would target two Republicans up in 2018, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, with spots rattling through the less glamorous parts of Gorsuch's judicial record and encouraging voters to call Flake's and Heller's offices.
    But traditional Democratic big spenders, such as the super PAC Priorities USA and the advocacy network led by Democratic operative David Brock, have not spent any money on paid media to defeat Gorsuch, and as of Thursday they had no plans to. The Democratic Senate campaign arm is not advertising on Gorsuch; the Republican Senate campaign arm is.
    "This is the genius of Trump's madness," said Craig Varoga, a Democratic operative who has directed spending at many of his party's top nonprofits over the years. "He and (adviser Stephen) Bannon create so many distractions that what traditionally would have been a great fight -- a Supreme Court nomination one year after Republicans would not allow a vote on a Democratic nomination -- seems like an afterthought."
    The other issues are clearly taking up the Democrats' time.
    Priorities has already begun to spend to protect the Obama legacy item, and it is expected to trigger spending from labor and community groups, as well.
    Symone Sanders, a spokeswoman for Priorities, said the group made its decision after internal polling revealed that the Obamacare fight was far more "potent" than the Gorsuch one.
    "We believe that we're not trying to be all things to all people," she said. "We're paying attention to what the voters are caring about."
    But it is also a sign of Gorsuch's profile and mainstream credibility. Democrats this week, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, ratcheted up their critique of specific cases they said showed Gorsuch to favor corporations and big business, but have yet to unearth a silver bullet that would convince their Democratic caucus to hold strong should they filibuster his nomination.