By Simone Pathé, Bridget Bowman and Stephanie Akin
Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.
With the House approving two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, attention now shifts to the Senate. The timing of a Senate trial remains uncertain with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellwaiting to see who caves first. Pelosi said Wednesday night that she will not send the articles to the Senate until she gets assurances that the trial will be fair.
While a Senate trial could take some presidential contenders off the campaign trail, the attention will also turn to senators facing tough reelection races, most of whom are Republicans. State Democratic parties in Arizona and Colorado have already started criticizing their respective Republican senators, Martha McSally and Cory Gardner, over how they’re handling impeachment. Maine’s Susan Collins, who announced this week that she is running for reelection, has avoided discussing impeachment noting she will be an impartial juror.
The most vulnerable senator in 2020 is actually a Democrat: Alabama’s Doug Jones. He took a page from Collins’ playbook, telling a local news station this week that he is undecided on whether Trump should be impeached and senators should be impartial. In a 17-minute floor speech in September, Jones called the allegations relating to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine “stunning” and “disturbing” but also cautioned that ”the facts have not come out.”
Trumped-up impact? Almost all of the Democrats in districts Trump carried voted to impeach the president. They acknowledged the vote could cost them their seats, but Democratic operatives involved in House races weren’t convinced their majority is at risk. Democrats in these districts are looking to pivot to other issues, but Republicans say that won’t be so easy.
The why: Vulnerable lawmakers in both parties fell largely along party lines in Wednesday’s impeachment vote. Catch up on how members in competitive races were explaining their votes.
Listen up: One of those vulnerable Democrats explained her support for impeachment at a town hall Monday ahead of the vote. Plenty of voters in Elissa Slotkin’s Michigan district, which backed Trump by 7 points, weren’t happy about her decision. She got an earful, especially from some vocal protesters but maintained her vote was worth the political risk.
Leaving for greener Meadows? Mark Meadows, the former chairman of the Freedom Caucus, became the third North Carolina Republican to announce his retirement. But he’s not likely to go far. “I’m going to be working closer with the president, not less so,” he told CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson.
Walking out: North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker announced he wouldn’t seek reelection earlier in the week. Like GOP Rep. George Holding, he’s in a district that became much more Democratic in recent court-mandated redistricting. But he’s exploring a bid for Senate in 2022.
Switcheroo: After news broke last weekend that New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew planned to leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican, CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales reevaluated the race rating for the state’s 2nd District, shifting it from Tilt Democrat to Tilt Republican. Van Drew told reporters after Wednesday night’s impeachment vote that his approval rating in his district is about 70 percent — but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have some primary problems. Meanwhile, his Jersey Democratic colleagues had some choice words for the freshman.
She’s running: Maine Sen. Susan Collins chose Wednesday, a very busy news day, to announce that she is in fact running for reelection. Her campaign has already run ads for the 2020 race, so the bigger news would have been if she weren’t running — and what that would have meant for Republican efforts to hold the Senate.
Uh O(CE): The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) said in a report released this week that there is “substantial reason” to believe Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Lori Trahan violated campaign finance laws. CQ Roll Call’s Chris Marquette has the details.
What’Sapp-ening in Florida’s 3rd?: Republican businessman Judson Sapp has been trying to get out front in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Ted Yoho in Florida’s 3rd District. Sapp announced a string of high-profile endorsements last week, including from Florida Reps. Vern Buchanan and John Rutherford. Sapp ran and lost against Yoho in the 2018 primary. But it looks like Sapp will have company in the primary. Yoho’s former staffer Kat Cammack is one of a handful of Republicans also running in this Solid Red District.
Ohio races take shape: Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan struggled to attract national attention in his failed presidential bid this year, but it looks like he caught some eyes at home. Seven Republicans filed by the Wednesday deadline to take on Ryan in Ohio’s 13th District, rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. Christina Hagan, a former state representative, has already attracted attention in local media and snagged an endorsement from former Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who had also been mulling a bid, according to CantonRep.com.
Rep. Steve Chabot, who has been drawn into a scandal amid a federal investigation of money missing from his campaign, did not get a primary challenger, but two Democrats and a Libertarian filed for the 1st District seat. It’s rated Lean Republican.
One less thing for McAdams to worry about: Dan Hemmert, a former aide to Sen. Mitt Romney, dropped out of the race for Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams’ seat in Utah’s 4th District Monday. Hemmert, a member of the NRCC’s Young Guns program, was considered the candidate in the GOP primary best positioned to take on McAdams in 2020 in the Trump +7 district. Shortly after Hemmert’s move became public, McAdams announced he would vote in favor of impeaching Trump.
What we’re reading
Domestic dispute: Impeachment isn’t just dividing lawmakers; it’s dividing relationships. The New York Times traveled to South Carolina’s 1st District, where one couple in freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham’s district sees impeachment very differently.
Meanwhile, in the presidential race: The Wesleyan Media Project has a breakdown of which presidential candidates are spending the most money on impeachment-related ads. (Spoiler alert: it’s not Trump).
Campaigns vs. misinformation: The New York Times delves into how campaigns are dealing with misinformation online — or more accurately, how they’re not dealing with it.
More Pomp about Kansas Senate: The Washington Examiner jumps in on the endless speculation over whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to run for Senate in Kansas — and, in a new twist, the White House in 2024.
What we’re listening to: Our intrepid photographers, Bill Clark, Tom Williams and Caroline Brehman, capture unique moments on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail. They joined this week’s Political Theater podcast to talk about their favorite photos of the year.
Listen for yourself: The latest CQ on Congress podcast takes you to Michigan, where Simone traveled for Slotkin’s town hall. The podcast features conversations with voters in the competitive district as well as analysis of the potential political fallout of Slotkin’s impeachment vote.
The count: 4
Four Democrats — a committee chairman, two freshmen and one presidential candidate — broke with their party on last night’s impeachment vote. Find out more about who they are.
Nathan has some important reminders when it comes to impeachment, including that “something can be historic and politically insignificant at the same time.”
The Texas primary on March 3 is fast approaching and it looks as though Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar is facing a formidable challenge from attorney Jessica Cisneros, who has racked up endorsements on the left, including from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Justice Democrats and EMILY’s List. Cisneros, 26, told CQ Roll Call that it was her high school typing teacher who encouraged her to run for Congress. Her teacher saw an ad in the newspaper from Justice Democrats calling for primary challengers to take on Cuellar, and the teacher submitted her name.
All the talk about Democrats in swing districts whose votes on impeachment could cost them their jobs has overshadowed the Republicans who faced a similar predicament. That group includes Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who represents a suburban district outside Omaha that Democrats are targeting in 2020. Trump narrowly won the district by 2 points in 2016.
Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, told The Lincoln Journal Star last week that he knew his vote against impeachment would be a political risk, and that the constituents who had gotten in touch with his office about the issue were “about evenly” divided. He was among a small group of Republicans in swing districts willing to offer a couched critique of Trump’s call to the Ukranian president. Bacon said the president’s behavior was “not wise,” but also not criminal, and Democrats’ evidence for impeachment was “paper thin.”
It’s unclear how much of a role Bacon’s vote will play in the election. Ann Ashford, one of the Democrats vying to unseat Bacon in 2020, told the Scottsbluff Star Herald in December she would take a “measured” approach on the issue and would want to read the fine print on the articles of impeachment before making up her mind. Kara Eastman, who is running to Ashford’s left, has not minced words.
“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” she said in a statement to the newspaper.
Ashford and Eastman are the best-funded of the Democrats who have entered the May 12 primary. Eastman, who defeated Ashford’s husband, Brad, in an upset 2018 primary and narrowly lost to Bacon, had raised $271,000 and had $67,000 cash on hand as of the end of the third quarter on Sept. 30. Ashford had raised $149,000 and had $20,000 cash on hand.
Eastman, the founder of a public health non-profit, attracted national attention for her 2018 run given her surprise primary win and her support for more liberal policies like Medicare for All. She once again has an endorsement from the progressive group Democracy for America, announced on Thursday. Ashford is apparently preparing to make Eastman’s support from outside the state an issue in the primary.
“Almost all of my donors come from Neb or have ties to the state,” Ashford wrote in a pinned Tweet. “Other candidates in this race can’t say that.” Nathan rates the race Lean Republican.
For next week, let us know if you’d like to learn more about the Colorado Senate race or the Maine Senate race. Email us at email@example.com.
Buckle your seatbelts, 2020 is ALMOST HERE! In fact, by the time you get the next newsletter, the ball will have dropped and seemingly endless bowl games will have been played. In other words, we will be taking a break for next week’s holidays (and stocking up on coffee and chocolate in preparation for a wild election year), but we’ll be back in your inboxes Jan. 2!
Heated debate consumed Capitol Hill this week, but the real fight was breaking out in the hallways of House office buildings over Christmas decorations. Heard on the Hill was on the scene.
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