Jennifer Mintun is a Catholic stay-at-home mother in Denver, N.C., who thinks there should be more restrictions on abortion rights. But she’s worried that Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, may go too far in opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.
“I do have a gay brother, and that is very important to me that he doesn’t feel stripped of any rights,” said Ms. Mintun, 31, who is undecided in the presidential race but leaning toward voting for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Charlene Bowden, 80, is a retired nurse from Eddington, Me., who strongly favors abortion rights but feels Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh was treated unfairly during his 2018 confirmation hearings and is leaning toward voting for Mr. Trump. Now she fears that Democratic opposition to Judge Barrett will tear the country apart.
“The people that are in the country now that are leftist, they don’t seem to understand the danger of all of this derision,” she said. Yet she added: “I have a hard time with a bunch of old white men deciding what I should do with my body when it comes to abortion issues. Why should they decide?”
Interviews since Sunday with more than two dozen voters who are still making up their minds in the presidential contest showed a set of Americans weighing how they should react to the looming Supreme Court fight.
For many of these voters, their feelings about Judge Barrett and the selection process do not fit neatly into partisan stereotypes or narratives, with some supporters of abortion rights backing her nomination and some otherwise Democratic-leaning voters saying Mr. Trump had the right to select Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement. Rather, the voters expressed a range of nuanced and often personal reasons for their opinions about Judge Barrett, and by extension Mr. Trump and his re-election effort.
On the eve of Tuesday’s presidential debate, few of the undecided voters exhibited firm opinions about Judge Barrett herself, but nearly all of them felt strongly about whether Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans should push to confirm her before the election, with the divide not necessarily correlating to which candidate they are leaning toward supporting.
Andrew Sperry, a conservative government contractor from Las Vegas, voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but has soured on him since.
“You’re going to find few people where the Supreme Court justice pick specifically is going to sway their vote,” said Mr. Sperry, 41. “What you’ll find more is the fact that the Senate is trying to rush it through makes it dirty.”
Shannon Xiques, a public school science teacher from Elizabeth City, N.C., said she shared Judge Barrett’s Catholic faith, but didn’t believe there was good cause for Republicans to rush the high court confirmation so close to the election.
“To get a Supreme Court justice is not something we need to worry about right now, we can put that off until after the election,” said Ms. Xiques, 50. “I think it’s just a rush job so he can say, ‘There’s another one I did.’”
Donald Zimmerman, a 62-year-old farmer from outside Kalispell, Mont., took the opposite viewpoint. Mr. Zimmerman, who backed Senator Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, isn’t a fan of Mr. Trump but said he thought Mr. Trump had a constitutional duty to name Justice Ginsburg’s successor.
“Regardless of where we’re at in the election, the president has the responsibility to appoint someone and Congress has the responsibility to vote,” he said.
He said he was wary of Mr. Biden because the former vice president stayed mostly secluded at his Delaware home this summer, largely hidden from voters and the news media.
“He’s not asked the hard questions or becomes evasive immediately,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “I worry that he really does have cognitive function issues, and he was just coalesced around because he was the lesser of all evils.”
A clear majority, 56 percent, of American voters believe the winner of the presidential contest should choose Justice Ginsburg’s replacement, a recent poll from The New York Times and Siena College found. Just 41 percent said Mr. Trump should choose a justice before the election.
Yet for some conservatives who were having doubts about the president himself, the prospect of installing Judge Barrett on the court may serve as a magnet to vote Republican. These voters said they didn’t see Mr. Trump as a trusted steward of the country, but they were generally supportive of conservative policies and were not sold on Mr. Biden, or on any possible Democratic presidential candidate.
Theodore C. Krenzke, a 90-year-old retiree from Rice Lake, Wis., who worked in the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, said he wrote in former Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin for president in 2016 and was not a fan of Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Krenzke called Mr. Trump’s two previous Supreme Court appointments, Justices Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch, the highlights of his presidency and said he hoped Judge Barrett, if confirmed, would perform as they have.
“I’m not necessarily looking for a conservative court to upturn Roe vs. Wade, but I think it puts the brakes on some of the country’s move to the left,” Mr. Krenzke said.
Mr. Krenzke has already received his absentee ballot and declared himself ready to mark it and return it by mail. He said he would probably vote for Mr. Biden if the former vice president distanced himself from some of the Democratic Party’s more progressive positions during Tuesday’s debate.
“If he would be the kind of centrist that I think he has historically been, I really personally feel fairly comfortable with him,” Mr. Krenzke said. “I just am not real thrilled about some of the direction of the left wing of the Democratic Party.”
For other undecided conservatives, Mr. Trump’s conduct in office has already disqualified him from earning their vote for a second term, even if they approve of elevating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Walking out of Sunday Mass at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Tucson, Ariz., Carolyn Osborn said she was excited about the prospect of Judge Barrett on the Supreme Court. An 80-year-old Republican, Ms. Osborn is opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage and said she liked that Judge Barrett shared her Catholic faith and conservative beliefs on social issues, and that she was young enough to shape the court for decades.
But she said she could not support Mr. Trump and would vote for Mr. Biden. She believes Justice Ginsburg should be replaced by the winner of the Nov. 3 election.
“I can’t take another four years of this,” Ms. Osborn said. “I realize he has done some good things, but he has not taken care of the American people.”
Scott Allen, 62, a lifelong Republican from Cumberland, Wis., said he was leaning toward Mr. Biden not because he agrees with any of his policies but because he believes Mr. Trump has damaged the United States’ reputation around the world.
“One of the comments I heard him say recently, that he would not commit to the American people for a peaceful transition of power — that to me was the last straw as far as me voting Republican this year,” he said.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, has failed to convince a sliver of undecided voters who backed Mr. Sanders, the progressive standard-bearer, during the Democratic primary contests and are now toying with the idea of voting for Mr. Trump.
Michael McDonald, a Democrat from Altoona, Iowa, caucused for Mr. Sanders this year. He said he had begun to lean toward voting for Mr. Trump because he remains dismayed by Mr. Biden’s fourth-place performance in Iowa’s caucuses in January, and said the president and Senate Republicans should move forward to confirm Judge Barrett.
“He’s president now, go ahead and do it,” said Mr. McDonald, 65. “If the shoe was on the other foot, you don’t think the Democrats would be doing it? They would.”
Many of the undecided voters interviewed said they were waiting for the debates to assess the candidates on live television. With Mr. Biden only recently accelerating his campaign travel and limiting his interviews largely to local television stations, and with Mr. Trump rarely venturing outside Fox News or his rallies, Tuesday’s debate will represent the first chance for most voters to see the two candidates take questions about their plans for the next four years.
Maureen Franklin, a 66-year-old retired teacher from Nashua, N.H., said she didn’t mind that Mr. Trump had nominated Judge Barrett. She’s worried about social and income inequality, but said she was turned off by street protests for racial justice.
She’s not leaning toward either candidate now, and said the debates would go a long way in determining who wins her vote.
“I like Biden, I like Trump,” she said. “I think they’re both good people no matter how they speak. I do think we’re doing a lot of personality politics all through the media, and I’m more interested in what has happened and what their plans are.”
Maggie Astor and Hank Stephenson contributed reporting.
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