LEWISTON, Maine/DES MOINES, Iowa — When Bates College student Olivia Eaton returned home on Friday evening following the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she was presented with a question.
“I walked into my dorm room last night and my roommate said: ‘Are we going to lose our reproductive [health] care?’ It’s scary. I couldn’t give her an answer,” said Eaton, who spent Saturday afternoon crafting a sidewalk chalk mural of Ginsburg’s initials, RBG, a moniker used affectionately by fans of the the liberal jurist, known for her focus on gender equity and a commitment to abortion access.
“I was inspired to honor her,” Eaton said of the street art. “Just since we found out yesterday, I’ve talked to so many friends who are terrified,” she added.
Eaton is from Portland, Oregon. But she, like all of the Bates students who spoke to The 19th on Saturday, will be voting in Maine, where television ads for both parties in the presidential contest and U.S. Senate race here have blanketed the airwaves in a state not accustomed to being a highly contested political battleground.
Maine’s popular vote has gone to Democratic presidential candidates for more than 30 years, but it is one of only two states that do not use a winner-take-all system to allocate Electoral College votes. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign believes that Maine could make a difference in what could be a close race with Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins is also in the tightest race of her career since she was elected to represent Maine in 1997. Her challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, has made Collins’ 2018 vote for Trump Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh a focal point in the race, as have national Democratic groups.
Maine’s elected officials on both sides of the aisle are known for their political independence. So when allegations surfaced after Kavanaugh’s nomination to the court that he had sexually assaulted a classmate in high school, Democrats saw Collins as a potential ally to derail his confirmation.
Collins eventually voted for Kavanaugh after delivering an impassioned, hour-long speech on the Senate floor about a confirmation process “so dysfunctional, it looks more like a caricature of a gutter-level political campaign than a solemn occasion.” While she found accuser Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to be “sincere, painful and compelling” there was not enough corroborating evidence, she said.
Money began pouring into the race from across the country, with Democrats also questioning Collins’ trust that Kavanaugh would respect Supreme Court precedent in abortion-access cases.
In June, when the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors to have hospital admitting privileges in order to perform abortions, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative jurist, surprised many by siding with the court’s four liberal-leaning justices in determining the law was too restrictive. Kavanaugh dissented.
As of June 30, the most recent disclosure filing deadline, Gideon had raised $23,961,355 and Collins had raised $16,735,539, according to an analysis of government data by the accountability group OpenSecrets. A New York Times/Siena College poll on Friday had Gideon leading Collins by five points.
The Collins-Gideon Senate race is among the most expensive and competitive in the country, with the Supreme Court featuring prominently. Ginsburg’s death also thrust the court onto center stage in roughly a dozen additional competitive Senate races, fueled by Trump’s statement that he could name a replacement pick as early as next week and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the weeks before the election.
By noon on Saturday, just 16 hours after news broke of Ginsburg’s death, donors had poured more than $45 million into various campaigns, with a focus on the Senate, according to liberal fundraising platform ActBlue. In the hour between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday night, donations were coming in at a pace of more than $100,000 per minute.
Some of the money came in $35 increments from Erica Brooks, a 38-year-old graphic designer in Phoenix, Arizona, where Republican Sen. Martha McSally is trailing Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, an astronaut and gun control activist who is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in a shooting.
Brooks contributed to Kelly’s campaign on Saturday morning, along with Biden’s and that of Amy McGrath, a former Marine fighter pilot who is challenging McConnell in a Kentucky race that has also received national attention. Brooks said she believes she should only direct her money to in-state candidates but was moved by Ginsburg’s request in her final days that she not be replaced “until a new president is installed.”
Between the donations, swag — Brooks also ordered a face mask and sweatpants from Biden’s campaign — and related fees, she spent $174.66 on Saturday. Brooks said she has never given more than $100 in any political cycle and only to in-state candidates.
But she was alarmed by McConnell breaking his own precedent in moving to confirm a justice in the weeks before an election, after blocking the Senate from voting on Obama nominee Merrick Garland who was nominated in March 2016, eight months before that year’s presidential election.
McConnell is impacting “the overall world of politics. It’s not just for his constituents in Kentucky,” Brooks said.
“I believe that what he is doing right now, by saying he is going to put a nominee in front of the Senate, when he refused to do so for Merrick Garland back in 2016 — I believe I am his constituent now,” she added.
When Etta Berkowitz, a 74-year-old retired social worker in Des Moines, Iowa, found out Friday night that Ginsburg had died, she began to recite the mourner’s kaddish, an ancient Jewish prayer.
“I don’t know it by heart, but I got out my prayer book and said it for her, because I just had to do something,” Berkowitz said, her voice cracking.
Berkowitz has already given to the campaign of Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who was leading Iowa’s Sen. Joni Ernst by three points in a Des Moines Register poll released on Saturday. Berkowitz also recently upped her contributions to Biden via a recurring monthly donation. She also went online and clicked a donate button to give $35 to McGrath, who is currently trailing McConnell by about 10 points according to most polls.
Berkowitz, a self-described progressive who initially supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election but later voted for Hillary Clinton, said she feels “frightened” over the possibility that Trump wins re-election.
“This has made me even more determined to make sure that I vote, and that I encourage everybody that I know to vote and not to say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter.’ It matters.”
Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, the director of state media campaigns at Planned Parenthood Votes, an abortion rights group, said that the future of the Supreme Court could come down to a few key U.S. Senate races, and that voters who support abortion access in particular know this is a “matter of urgency.”
Ginsburg was the most senior liberal justice on the Supreme Court and her death leaves the remaining justices evenly split or conservative-leaning on most abortion-access issues. Lee-Gilmore urged voters to call their senators in the weeks ahead to ask them to stop a Trump nominee.
“This is not something that’s going to play out over the next few years,” Lee-Gilmore said. “We will start to see policies that take aim at health care, abortion rights, birth control in the next few months.”
Back in Maine, Poppy Arford, a Democratic statehouse candidate, said that when she visited the county party headquarters on Saturday there was a shared sense of mourning and shock over Ginsburg’s death, along with a shared sense of mission.
“I feel like crying. I already have,” Arford said.
“I think it’s going to bring people out of the woodwork to elect Democrats,” she added.