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Republicans prepared Monday to unleash a torrent of activity opposing President Barack Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. As the president neared an announcement, Obama's allies, too, were priming for an election-year fight.
The Republican Party launched a task force housed within the Republican National Committee to orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach, party officials said. They want to bolster a strategy that Senate Republicans adopted as soon as Justice Antonin Scalia died last month: refusing to consider an Obama nominee out of hopes that the next president will be a Republican.
The Republican National Committee will contract with America Rising Squared, an outside group targeting Democrats that's run by a longtime aide to GOP Sen. John McCain. GOP chairman Reince Priebus said it would be the most comprehensive judicial response effort in the party's history.
Priebus said the RNC would "make sure Democrats have to answer to the American people for why they don't want voters to have a say in this process."
Echoing that strategy, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network said it was spending upward of a quarter-million dollars on TV and digital ads targeting three appellate judges Obama has considered for the job: Sri Srinivasan, Merrick Garland and Jane Kelly. The group's move to attack candidates even before Obama had announced his selection underscored conservatives' insistence that nobody Obama nominates will be confirmed in an election year.
"This is Exhibit A of Republicans putting political considerations at the RNC ahead of their constitutional duties," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Obama is expected to announce his pick as early as this week, touching off a heated battle as Obama and Democrats try to pressure Republicans into relenting on hearings and a vote. A number of former top Obama advisers have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve a bevy of liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee to replace the conservative Scalia could pull the high court's ideological balance to the left.
Amy Brundage, a former top White House communications aide helping to organize the Democratic push, said the effort would target specific states where they believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama has a living, breathing nominee to promote. She said Democratic groups would organize events with Democratic lawmakers as well as legal scholars, law school deans, state attorneys general and historians.
"The coordinated grassroots effort that has already proven a powerful tool to put pressure on Republicans will only ramp up," Brundage said.
In an unusual criticism of a colleague from the same state, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., cited comments that GOP Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson made last week about the nomination process. In a Wisconsin radio interview, Johnson said "there's a little more accommodation to it" if a conservative president were nominating another conservative to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
"Do Senate Republicans really believe that they need a Republican president simply to do their jobs?" Baldwin asked on the Senate floor Monday.
She did not mention Johnson by name.
RNC officials said that in addition to scouring the nominee's history for anything that can be used against him or her, the party will also work to portray Democrats as hypocritical, dredging up comments that Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats made in previous years suggesting presidents shouldn't ram through nominees to the high court in the midst of an election.
The GOP has already been looking into candidates on Obama's short-list and will oppose him or her with radio and digital ads, petitions and research documents. The committee is also lining up "surrogates" who will make the case in the media.
Key to the GOP's strategy will be targeting Democrats facing tough races over their insistence that Obama, in his final months in office, gets to pick a justice that could reshape the court's ideological balance for decades. In addition to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the RNC said it would target Democratic Senate candidates in Colorado, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania, among others. The party also plans to target Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.