“We cannot let them win this fight,” Senator Kamala Harris of California, the party’s vice-presidential nominee, wrote in an email. “Millions of Americans are counting on us to stand up, right now, and fight like hell to protect the Supreme Court — not just for today, but for generations to come.”
Mr. Trump’s campaign likewise moved to seize advantage on the issue, issuing a statement challenging Mr. Biden: “Where’s your Supreme Court list?” Much as he did in 2016, Mr. Trump this month released a list of more than 40 potential candidates he would consider if a Supreme Court vacancy occurred. Mr. Biden has not released such a list in keeping with longstanding tradition before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.
The president has long considered his record of conservative judicial appointments one of his strongest election arguments to motivate his base. Exit polls showed after the 2016 election that 26 percent of Mr. Trump’s voters considered the Supreme Court with its vacant seat the most important issue that year compared with just 18 percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters.
As they assessed the myriad political implications, Republican strategists said they also believed that the Supreme Court showdown could benefit their fight to hold the Senate majority since the decisive races are being waged in states that Mr. Trump is likely to carry — Iowa, Georgia and Montana among them.
But it could seal the fate of the party’s most endangered incumbent, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and present challenges for others facing tough races, like Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Ms. Collins said in a statement on Saturday that the Senate should not vote before the election. “In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the president or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the president who is elected on Nov. 3,” she said. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, concurred in an interview on Friday shortly before news of Justice Ginsburg’s death.
Mr. Graham once held a similar view but flip-flopped on Saturday. In 2016, as he helped block consideration of Mr. Obama’s choice, Mr. Graham said he would do the same if a Republican president had a vacancy in the last year of his first term, “and you could use my words against me and you’d be absolutely right.” In 2018, he reaffirmed that, saying that “we’ll wait to the next election” if an opening occurred in the last year of Mr. Trump’s term.