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Arizona Senate race could play crucial role in Supreme Court confirmation battle

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Dozens of Southern Arizona voters were out in front of Sen. Martha McSally's Tucson office in protest, Wednesday night.

Some of McSally’s constituents tried to put pressure on the senator not to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court before the November election. 

If Democrat Mark Kelly wins the Senate race this fall, there's a scenario where he could take his seat before the new year and cast a consequential Supreme Court vote.

With the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday, a Supreme Court vacancy is now front and center in the presidential election with less than six weeks to go. 

In just two weeks, Arizona voters will get their ballots in the mail and because the Senate race is a special election to fill the remaining two years of the late Sen. John McCain's term, state law says if Kelly wins he could be seated as soon as the end of November, rather than having to wait to be sworn in with the new Senate in January. 

This could complicate the GOP path to confirming a conservative justice to the high court. 

But one local political science professor calls this possibility a longshot. 

“There is a reasonable likelihood that the vote will have occurred before Mark Kelly could be seated,” Pima Community College political science professor Erich Saphir said. 

Saphir believes it's now likely the Republicans lead by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have the votes to confirm President Trump's nominee before Election Day Nov. 3 or in the weeks right after. 

“With Romney coming on board and saying the President is entitled to a vote, I think that lowers the chances Mark Kelly could play a deciding role,” Saphir said.

With Kelly leading in the polls, his campaign’s communications director, Jacob Peters, sent News 4 Tucson a statement from the Democratic challenger which reads:  “The Senate should be focused on passing urgently needed coronavirus relief for Arizonans -- something they’ve pushed off for months -- not rushing a vote on a lifetime nomination to the Supreme Court or issuing hypothetical threats about what will happen if the vacancy is filled. Hundreds of thousands of Arizonans are still without work, small businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and still, Washington is engaging in divisive politics that take us further from addressing this public health and economic crisis.”

Wednesday afternoon, Senator McSally tweeted this and expressed her desire to vote on President Trump’s nominee:

 Saphir argues this Supreme Court fight will energize an already enthused electorate. 

“Both sides are going to be even more amped up about this election because of this Supreme Court nomination battle,” he said. “If there is an expectation that the winner of the Arizona election may play a role, that could galvanize turnout on both sides.”

Coming up on Oct. 6, McSally and Kelly will meet in the campaign's only scheduled debate up in Phoenix, just one night before ballots drop in the mail.

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Eric Fink

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