COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An effort by liberal groups to pressure Republicans to allow Senate consideration of President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee got off to a modest start Monday as small groups of demonstrators rallied outside lawmakers' offices around the country. A bigger election-year battle ramped up as both sides brought their viewpoints to television, social media and supporters' email inboxes.
Five days after Obama tabbed federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant seat, about 25 people appeared outside the Columbus, Ohio, office of GOP Sen. Rob Portman, who is backing Republican leaders' insistence on awaiting the pick of whoever is elected president in November. Some carried signs saying "#DoYourJob," a battle cry of Senate Democrats aimed at their GOP colleagues, and "#FillTheSeat."
"The idea that they need to wait until the people have spoken, well, the people already did speak," said Barbara Eakins, 70, an Ohio State University retiree. "They spoke when they elected Obama to office twice."
Similar-sized crowds were observed at rallies in Austin, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Des Moines, Iowa, respectively targeting GOP Sens. John Cornyn, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey and Charles Grassley.
Above the Austin rally, a plane circled briefly pulling a red "Fill the Seat" banner. Cornyn is the No. 2 Senate GOP leader while Johnson, Toomey and Grassley face re-election this fall.
The demonstrations were among 51 events across the country, according to Brian Stewart, a spokesman for MoveOn.org. The group organized the actions with Credo Action, Democracy for America and other liberal organizations, timed to the beginning of a two-week Senate recess.
Thirty-seven events were outside Republican senators' offices and another 14 were aimed at Democrats to thank them for backing Garland, Stewart said. He said about 2,700 people told the groups over the Internet that they would attend an event.
Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the vacancy should not be filled until a new president announces a nominee, a position that has won the backing of most Senate Republicans.
With several recent polls showing majorities of the public want the Senate to consider Obama's selection, Democrats say they believe Republicans will eventually reverse themselves or face enough election defeats in November to lose control of the chamber.
Portman spokesman Kevin Smith brushed aside the protests and said the lawmaker stood by the GOP position. In an opinion column in Friday's Cincinnati Enquirer, Portman wrote, "The best thing for the country is to trust the American people to weigh in and to have the confirmation process take place in a less partisan atmosphere."
As part of a $2 million advertising blitz over the next three weeks, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network said it was beginning radio and Internet ads in Ohio backing Portman.
"Senator Portman thinks that during a heated election, with harsh rhetoric and America divided, it's wrong to nominate someone without the American people's input," the announcer says.
The group also planned to run versions of the ad on TV in Iowa and New Hampshire — backing Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who is refusing to hold hearings on Garland, and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is running for re-election. And it was airing ads in the home states of Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Michael Bennet of Colorado.
The Susan B. Anthony List and other anti-abortion groups were using a website, www.ProtecttheCourt.com , to contact their senators. The National Rifle Association was urging its supporters to tell their senators to back the GOP position, using email and the group's Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat sites.
"Contact your U.S. senators now to oppose Obama's attempt to stack the Supreme Court against our right to keep and bear arms," the NRA's legislative arm wrote in mass email.
On the Democratic side, the Senate Majority PAC was spending over $600,000 for an ad in New Hampshire linking Ayotte to GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump's opposition to an Obama nominee. "Ayotte joined Trump and party bosses in refusing to consider any nominee, ignoring the Constitution," the announcer says.
End Citizens United — which wants to overturn a Supreme Court ruling allowing unfettered campaign spending — began ads last week in Iowa asking viewers to call Grassley and, "Tell him to do what's right. It's time to hold a hearing."
Both sides were also using the battle for fundraising solicitations.
Cornyn asked Saturday for $5 contributions, emailing, "We can't allow President Obama to sneak his Supreme Court nominee past the American people!" No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin sent one the same day saying Republicans must act "in the name of fairness and our Constitution."
Associated Press reporters Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa; and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas; contributed to this report. Fram reported from Washington.