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Conservative and Liberal Groups Gird for Battle Over Kavanaugh

Even before Justice Anthony M. Kennedy declared his retirement, Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group, had reserved more than two dozen internet domain names — one for each candidate on President Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. The idea, said Carrie Severino, the group’s chief counsel, was to create a website template: “Confirm Blank.com.”

Now, President Trump has filled in the blank with the name of Brett M. Kavanaugh. ConfirmKavanaugh.com is live, and Judicial Crisis Network is already running advertisements. Over the next few months, it expects to spend more than $10 million to promote Judge Kavanaugh — component of a battle royale between conservative and liberal interest groups that will last all summer and into fall, costing tens of millions of dollars.

Washington has seen its fair share of brutal Supreme Court confirmation fights; the days of bipartisan confirmations of the sort experienced by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — whose nomination was approved by a 96-to-3 vote — are long gone. But at a time when the United States is polarized as never before, and the ideological balance of the court is on the line, advocates and allies of both parties are expecting an even more intense and expensive battle.

“It will be a battle unlike any we have seen in history,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, a onetime Supreme Court clerk and current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who says that for senators, the vote will be a “career defining” moment.

On the left, a constellation of groups is planning to pressure moderate-leaning Republicans and red-state Democrats through a mix of television and digital advertising, as well as grass-roots advocacy. Democrats and their allies have agreed on a strategy: They will paint Judge Kavanaugh as a jurist who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, and undo the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“Our basic strategy is, there are many problems and rights at stake, but there are two that I think resonate very deeply in America, and they are a woman’s reproductive freedom and health care, particularly the right to secure pre-existing conditions,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, in an interview. “We are going to focus hard on those two problems.”

Three liberal-leaning groups are expected to spend the most money on commercials: Naral Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Demand Justice, a new organization focused on judicial nominations.

“You’re going to see a lot of money spent on mobilization,” said Ilyse Hogue, who runs Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group. “We’re focused on making sure this is a constant conversation, through the hearings and the vote.”

Demand Justice, which acts as a kind of Democratic counterpart to Judicial Crisis Network, expects to spend more than $5 million on advertising, said its executive director, Brian Fallon. The group is already running television advertisements in Maine and Alaska, the home states of two pivotal Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who support abortion rights.

Even before Justice Kennedy’s announcement, Demand Justice began a “Ditch the List” digital advertising campaign aimed at getting Democrats to commit to voting against any nominee on the roster given to Mr. Trump by conservative groups during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Instead of allowing the White House to “focus on all of the softer aspects of their personal life, like they’re a Cub Scout master and they married their high school sweetheart,” Mr. Fallon said, his goal has been to “make the person controversial out of the gate by virtue of the fact that they came off the list.”

That strategy appears to be working. On Monday, Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, joined a growing list of Democrats who said they will not vote for any nominee on Mr. Trump’s list. “It’s a corrupt process, and I can’t support it,” Mr. Casey told reporters.

Democrats are also planning a series of rallies, news conferences and protests in states with key senators and are encouraging supporters to flood their phone lines with calls opposing Judge Kavanaugh. Monday night, hundreds of liberal activists collected on the steps of the Supreme Court for a rally organized by dozens of left-leaning groups.

This week, the group Indivisible, as part of what is being billed as #savescotus, will deploy activists to show up at the district offices of senators to demand that they oppose the pick. The summer grass-roots efforts will culminate on Aug. 26, the anniversary of the day in 1920 that women were granted the right to vote, when progressives hope to draw millions of demonstrators to rallies in all 50 states to send a statement of opposition to Mr. Trump’s pick.

Liberals recognize that torpedoing Judge Kavanaugh will not be simple given the pressure on those Democratic senators facing re-election in states that Mr. Trump carried in 2016 by double-digits, but they say there is a precedent: the failed Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, in which Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski sunk the legislation by voting with Democrats.

“For activists, this looks a lot like the health care fight,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director for MoveOn.org.

The debate over health care, though, offers more than just a tactical model. Democratic strategists believe that threats to the Affordable Care Act are the most potent problem they have against Republicans in the midterm elections in the fall.

And while abortion rights advocates will focus on the threat to Roe in an effort to win over Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski, others on the left aim to hold up the prospect of the court undermining the Affordable Care Act as a way to keep red-state Democrats from supporting Mr. Kavanaugh.

“You can talk about this problem anywhere in the country,” said Brad Woodhouse, who is running a group called Protect Our Care.

On the right, the campaign to promote Mr. Trump’s nominee is being led by the Judicial Crisis Network, which announced its second wave of ads on Monday, bringing its total spending since the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement to $2.4 million, it said.

The donor network overseen by the libertarian-leaning Charles G. and David H. Koch is also expected to spend more than seven figures on Mr. Trump’s nominee, as they did last year for Neil M. Gorsuch, and will mix an advertising campaign with grass-roots efforts in an attempt to rouse conservative-leaning voters.

To counter the activism on the left, conservative activists are relying on a surge of energy that will make opposition to the nominee difficult for wavering senators.

“We have a proven bloc of voters, and in the states that matter, we have a better chance of getting more motivated voters,” said Gary Marx, an adviser to the Judicial Crisis Network, who pointed to states like West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana and Alaska.

Social conservatives, who represent much of Mr. Trump’s base, are also gearing up for a protracted confirmation battle even greater than with Justice Gorsuch, whose nomination came on the heels of Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

Groups like the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America have been anticipating this moment for decades, in hopes of finally tipping the court in a conservative direction and even overturning abortion rights. Both will spend at least a half-million dollars on advertising.

The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion political group that is pressuring vulnerable Democratic senators in the upcoming midterm election, commissioned a poll by the Tarrance Group that found that majorities of voters in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia want their Democratic senators to support Mr. Trump’s nominee. In North Dakota, 68 percent of polled voters wanted Senator Heidi Heitkamp to vote to confirm the nominee, and in Indiana, 56 % of voters wanted Senator Joe Donnelly to do so.

Starting Tuesday, the group has grass-roots news events planned in North Dakota, West Virginia and Indiana, and in the coming weeks, it has planned digital ads, emails and in-state events in those states, and also in Missouri and Florida.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition is slated to spend a million dollars to target voters in 10 states with direct mail, digital ads, texts and emails, and also to support Senator Charles E. Grassley in Iowa, should he face resistance at town hall-style meetings, as happened during the Gorsuch nomination. In those 10 states, the group also plans to activate its network of 15,000 churches and target its list of 20 million voters, who are largely evangelical or Roman Catholic.

“This is our highest legislative priority,” said Timothy Head, the executive director for the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

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