Waiting for President Donald Trump to speak at a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday, Paulette Fittshur was quick to express her sympathy for the family of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Still, she viewed Ginsburg's passing as divine providence.
"It was God's perfect timing in this election," said Fittshur, 59, a resident of Leland, North Carolina who plans to vote for Trump. "It's a golden opportunity for conservatives."
As news of Ginsburg's death reverberated throughout the country, supporters of Trump and his opponent in the November 3 election, Democrat Joe Biden, were adjusting to a presidential race that had suddenly been reframed around a Supreme Court vacancy.
For Republicans like Fittshur, the open seat on the high court presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to abolish the constitutional right to abortion. For Democrats, it was a new, urgent reason to vote Trump out of office in a year already marked by a pandemic, economic upheaval and protests over racial injustice.
"If Trump wins, things are not going to change for a long time," said Diya Kalra, 18, a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who is planning to vote in her first election. "We're going to go backwards. We're not going to go forward. This was like a huge wake-up call."
Women voters have long been viewed as the key to the election, and the coming fight over the Supreme Court gives both Trump and Biden fresh ammunition to make their cases to the small pool of undecided women that could make a difference in battlegrounds states such as North Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere.
Both campaigns began fundraising over the Supreme Court vacancy on Saturday, less than 24 hours after Ginsburg's death from pancreatic cancer. The loss of the longtime liberal icon leaves the high court split between five conservatives and just three liberals.
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Trump has said he will likely announce a nominee this week, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to push for a quick confirmation, perhaps before the election. It remains unclear, however, whether Republicans will have the necessary majority to move forward on any nomination.
On Sunday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Senator Susan Collins of Maine in voicing objections to filling the vacancy before the election.
In the interim, Democratic interest groups are prepping for war, largely over the very real threat to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that established abortion as a constitutional right. "Everybody understands that the Supreme Court and this election are now one and the same," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion-rights advocacy group.
Democrats donated more than $60 million in the 19 hours between 9 P.M. Friday, soon after Ginsburg's death was announced, and 4 P.M. Saturday, according to the live tracker on the website ActBlue, which funds groups such as NARAL.
"There is tremendous grassroots energy across the country right now," said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, another advocacy group that will be involved in pressing Republicans to hold off on a nomination until a new president is in office.
But Republicans were newly energized, as well. The vacancy could afford them a chance to sway women voters who may have been leaning toward Biden, said Penny Nance, a conservative activist and president of Concerned Women for America.
"It is not about personality or the president's tweets," Nance said. "It's about policy. It's about the future of our nation. It's about generations to come."
Nance said her organization would like Trump to nominate another woman to replace Ginsburg, which, she said, could also help the president politically. Trump named two women Saturday who he is considering as Ginsburg's replacement.
Lynnette Voisard, 40, a spa manager in Fayetteville who was also awaiting the Trump rally said she, too, wanted a woman to replace Ginsburg, preferably Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals judge who is considered a leading contender. "She's a devout Catholic," Voisard said.
In 2016, during his first run for president, Trump performed well with Catholics, an important voting bloc in states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, earning a 58 percent share of their vote to Hillary Clinton's 39 percent.
Threatening abortion right poses a danger for Trump and Republicans. A 2019 Marist/NPR/PBS poll found that 77 percent of Americans supported Roe, the highest figure in a decade. In that poll, 56 percent of suburban women said they would not support a presidential candidate who would appoint judges to overturn the case.
That includes some Republican and independent women who do not want to see Roe overturned, NARAL's Hogue said. Trump in 2016 garnered significant support from blue-collar voters who favored abortion rights and who had supported Democrats in the past.
Cheryl Battin, 71, a Democrat from Bloomington, Minnesota, said she feared for Roe's future.
"They say Roe v. Wade is settled law. I don't know if it is," Battin said. "If the president tries to push through a new justice before the election, I think it will be almost criminal."