WASHINGTON -- Most Republicans blocking President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee cite various principles for the obstruction, but there may be a better predictor for how hardline their stance is: the difficulty of their re-election campaign.
Immediately after Obama announced he was selecting federal judge Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the high court, GOP leaders doubled down on their refusal to vote on or even meet with him or any nominee.
But a little further down the ladder, some GOP senators said they would indeed sit down with Garland -- and break with leadership over it. Many of them are up for re-election in 2016.
For those in tight races, now is definitely not the time to come across as partisan obstructionists. They're in the middle of trying to cast themselves as the best senators ever, avoiding reporters whenever possible, dyeing their hair in the dead of night and trying out sharp new talking points with voters back home. GOP leaders may be ready to deny action on any Supreme Court nominee, but for vulnerable senators, to refuse to even meet with a perfectly nice guy named Merrick Garland ... well, that's just rude.
Here's a look at the Republican senators up for re-election this year and what they've said about meeting with Obama's nominee. A wholly unscientific analysis suggests a correlation between a senator's willingness to give Garland a chance and said senator's panic level about getting re-elected. We'll rank them in rough order, from most terrified of blowing their election to least.
Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.): "I will assess Judge Merrick Garland based on his record and qualifications," he said in a statement. That's probably a good thing for voters to hear in the state that sent Obama to the White House to make that court pick in the first place. Analysts see Kirk's Senate contest as a toss-up, but the only public poll available finds him trailing Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D).
Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.): His office did not respond to a request for comment. But a Wisconsin paper reports him saying his position continues to be "let the American people decide," suggesting no action until Obama is gone. He hasn't exactly been rock-solid in that stance, though. Last month he appeared to waffle, saying he never said he wouldn't vote. "By the time I would actually take the vote, if it comes to that, I'll take a vote," he said. Johnson is trailing former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in most polls.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.): "I feel I would want to explain my position to the nominee. I mean, he does serve on the circuit court of appeals, so I want to give him that courtesy," she told reporters. This is another toss-up, with incumbent Ayotte holding a single-digit lead on Gov. Maggie Hassan (D).
Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio): "If the nominee requests a meeting, Rob would be happy to sit down with him and explain his position," said his spokesman, Kevin Smith. He emphasized the senator is still opposed to moving a nominee this year, though. Portman is in a dead heat with former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in a state where 56 percent of voters want the Senate to consider a nominee.
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.): Analysts have the state leaning Toomey's way, but he gave the same answer, verbatim, when asked four times about next steps on Garland's nomination. "We put out a statement this morning and I'm going to refer you to the statement," he told reporters, flying down a flight of stairs. But he did want to make clear in a statement on Twitter that it's nothing personal against Garland -- it's personal against Obama. "Should Merrick Garland be nominated again by the next president, I would be happy to carefully consider his nomination," Toomey said.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.): "I've issued a written statement. I've said everything I'm going to say on it," he told reporters. His statement doesn't suggest he'd meet with Garland.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa): He chairs the judiciary committee and has said he won't give Garland a hearing. But he's agreed to meet with Garland in early April, after the Senate's upcoming two-week recess, per White House spokesman Eric Schultz.
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.): "Why meet with someone who's not going to have a hearing, or have a vote?" he asked reporters.
There are three states where the Republican senators are retiring this year: Indiana, Florida and Louisiana. For those senators and others in reasonably safe contests, their position on the high court nomination becomes … what?
Sen. David Vitter (La.): "I don't do hallway interviews," he told HuffPost, while riding an escalator. What about escalator interviews? "They're the same." Vitter wrote an op-ed last week arguing that no Obama nominee should get a hearing.
Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.): "Why would I want to waste my time or his?" he asked HuffPost.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.): He didn't weigh in specifically on meeting with Garland, but he laughed off a reporter's question about potentially moving the nomination in the lame duck. "Oh God. I'm not even going to dignify that question or hypothesis with a response."
Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.): "I'm reserving judgement at this point," he told reporters.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.): Democrats, at least, put Blunt's contest in the sleeper category, but he was standing by the GOP leadership line. “This is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land," Blunt said in a statement. "The president has every right to nominate someone, and the Senate has the Constitutional responsibility to decide if it’s the right person at the right time. I will not vote for this nominee to the Supreme Court.”
A spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee did not answer a question about the pattern among vulnerable senators. A spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was willing to entertain the question, but suggested there was no difference between lawmakers being open to meeting Garland and McConnell's hardline position.
"A meeting to tell the nominee you won’t consider his appointment for political reasons is just another craven move from incumbents who refuse to do their jobs," said the DSCC's Lauren Passalacqua. "Just as they refuse to stand up to Donald Trump, voters shouldn’t be fooled: anything short of a hearing and vote is obstruction, pure and simple.”
Other GOP senators up in 2016 are:
John Boozman (Arkansas)
Mike Crapo (Idaho)
James Lankford (Oklahoma)
Mike Lee (Utah)
Jerry Moran (Kansas)
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Tim Scott (South Carolina)
John Thune (South Dakota)
Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.