Impeachment shakes up Democratic White House race

The impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn Seven years after Sandy Hook, the politics of guns has changed MORE has shaken up the Democratic race for the White House. 

Democratic consultants and strategists say the impeachment inquiry could help some candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers Krystal Ball rips Warren's 'passive-aggressive' swipes at rivals MORE (D-Mass.), who got on the impeachment train early and has been climbing in the polls. 

The impeachment proceedings could also boost former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Media organization fights Trump administration over Ukraine documents FOIA Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers MORE — who found himself at the epicenter of the controversy that launched the inquiry — underscoring his claims that he’s the candidate Trump is most wary of facing in a general election. 

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“This is a complicated issue from a political point of view,” Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats ask if they have reason to worry about UK result Buttigieg releases list of campaign bundlers Reject National Defense Authorization Act, save Yemen instead MORE (I-Vt.), who is competing with Biden and Warren for votes, acknowledged at a news conference from Iowa on Tuesday.

Impeachment has overshadowed the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, which is suddenly an afterthought on cable news.

It has forced candidates to try to bounce press releases off a fast-evolving story to win attention for their campaigns, presenting both opportunities and challenges for second-tier candidates.

For those clinging to life, it’s probably bad news, making it almost impossible to win attention.

“Talk about the ultimate political earthquake for the 2020 candidates,” one Democratic strategist said. 

“The impeachment chatter soaked up most of the oxygen this week, and only a couple of candidates really got any airtime,” the strategist continued. “You heard some chatter about Biden because he is at the heart of all of this. And you heard a little from Warren and Bernie Sanders and [Sen.] Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSanders revokes congressional endorsement for Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate New poll finds Sanders surging to within 7 points of Biden in South Carolina MORE [D-Calif.]. And that’s all she wrote.”  

Democratic strategist Doug Thornell said as the impeachment proceeding dominates the news cycle, “it freezes the race for at least a little while.” 

“That is good for Biden and likely Warren,” who are at the top of the polls, Thornell said. 

Biden has led the race since entering this spring, but Warren has been climbing and for the first time has surpassed Biden in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire this month. 

Then the news cycle completely shifted.

Thornell said that raises some questions for the Massachusetts senator, who he said is surging but has to wonder “whether this might slow her momentum because she may not be in the news as much and earned media is so important.”

Other strategists said Warren can use the moment to remind voters how strongly she came out on the idea of impeachment, months before the Democratic-led House moved on it.

“She can justifiably take credit for helping lead the charge on impeachment,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “But then like Elvis she needs to keep taking care of business.” 

Biden, for his part, has an opportunity to take the fight to Trump, as the architects of his campaign designed from the beginning. 

“Much of how this turns out for Biden depends on him,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. “He’s getting the one-to-one match-up with Trump he wanted when he kicked off his campaign." 

“He just needs to show that strength in his interaction with Democratic opponents by deflecting arrows thrown at him and proactively launching some of his own,” Smikle added. 

The fear among even some Biden supporters is that Trump and Republicans will spin the story the way they spun Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMore than 200,000 Wisconsin voters will be removed from the rolls Trump is threatening to boycott the debates — here's how to make sure he shows up Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE’s email controversy and that it will hurt the former vice president.

Trump’s campaign launched a new television commercial on Friday attacking Biden.

“It’s not terribly far-fetched,” one Biden ally said. “Under this administration and even during the last campaign, the party almost perfected these kinds of stunts. It’s why we’re in this situation in the first place, and we can’t let it happen again.” 

Vale said that while Biden’s team is “doing a great job lighting up Trump and pushing back against all of the BS attacks against him, it would be helpful to them if the candidate himself would turn up the heat too.” 

Sanders, who in recent days has upped his rhetoric about Trump, may be in the “hardest spot” of the leading candidates “because his team is trying to halt his slide and regain some footing in the early states, but now there’s even less oxygen for other topics,” Vale said.  

And the rest of the field would have the same difficulties as Sanders “but on steroids,” he concluded.  

Former Rep. Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 Democrats trading jabs ahead of Los Angeles debate The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Nancy Pelosi knows she needs to protect the Democratic majority MORE (D-N.Y.) — who served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — said it’s hard to predict who benefits from the impeachment inquiry.

“I think it’s too early to say with any precision,” Israel said. “What’s clear is that it strengthens the motivation of Democratic voters to defeat Trump, and polls show that the voters pragmatically prefer a candidate who can defeat Trump even if the candidate doesn’t share their ideology.”

With the Iowa caucuses more than 100 days away, it could provide an opening for other candidates such as Harris to reassert a toughness that appeals to the Democratic base. 

“It allows her to really lean into her law and order background and make the case she is the best Democrat to prosecute the campaign against Trump in 2020 if he is still around,” Thornell said.

But the Biden ally said the impeachment inquiry foreshadows what the next 14 months might look like: “Anything can happen.”