Guess Who’s Opposing Kagan? Endangered Republican Incumbents

Can you guess why eight Republican senators — including one who backed her for solicitor general — are opposing Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court? In the year of the tea party, it’s perhaps not so hard to figure out. Most of them are facing, have faced or might eventually face voters who think that they aren’t conservative enough.

Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and James Inhofe (R-OK), both of whom announced their opposition already, were probably always going to vote against Kagan anyway. But the other senators who have made their disapproval public have, at times, been considered of a more moderate persuasion. Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have something in common besides their already announced “No” votes on Kagan — political targets on their back.Kagan was confirmed as solicitor general in March 2009 on a 61-31 vote, with all of the “Nos” coming from Republicans. That vote makes Hatch the most surprising of the Kagan opponents, since he supported her nomination to the solicitor general job last year. But Hatch saw what happened to his fellow Utah senator Bennett, who lost his seat in a brutal ousting last month, and doesn’t want to face the same fate in 2012. That’s likely one reason he made TPM’s list of the toughest Kagan questioners.

Murkowski is next on the so-called “RINO” target list of the tea partiers. Her rival in the Aug. 24 primary, former federal Magistrate Judge Joe Miller, has been boosted by tea party activists and endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Backing Kagan wouldn’t likely to help Murkowski win over the Republican base in the weeks before she faces them on the ballot.

McCain faces former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in a primary next month. Although McCain appaears to be safe, he has been moving to the right ever since losing the presidential race.

Isakson, who also seems to be holding strong in his reelection fight, said he opposes Kagan because of the military recruiting ban at Harvard during her tenure and her “lack of appellate trial experience.”

McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, has seen his popularity tank in his home state in recent months. That probably wasn’t helped by McConnell backing Rand Paul’s opponent Trey Grayson in the GOP primary this year, but the minority leader won’t appear on the ballot in his home state until 2014.

The seven Republicans who supported Kagan for solicitor general are: Hatch, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Kyl and Coburn are both on the Judiciary Committee and subjected Kagan to some harsh questioning but have not yet announced whether they will vote for her.

The New York Times made a nifty infographic you can check out here which will allow people to track how the senators plan to vote and their records on both Kagan for solicitor general and Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination. Here’s another site detailing senators’ statements on Kagan.

We’re still closely watching Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a key bipartisan player in the Senate who has been targeted by conservatives in his home state. He even dissed the tea party movement in a recent New York Times magazine profile. And, on the Democratic side, Sen. Arlen Specter’s vote is still a big question mark. He opposed Kagan in 2009 when he was still a Republican, and he lost his Senate seat this year in a primary.

Late Update: The tally went up to nine Thursday afternoon when Sen. Mike Johanns announced his opposition. Johanns (R-NE) is a conservative so this vote isn’t unexpected.