Democrats see hopes rise in Senate with impeachment

Impeachment is raising the likelihood that the Senate will be a real battleground next year, and that Democrats could regain the majority.

Much will need to go right for Democrats to take back control. They would need to net three seats and the White House, and that’s with many in the party expecting to lose Sen. Doug Jones’s (D) seat in Alabama.

{mosads}Yet Democratic hopes are rising given the steady series of negative headlines surrounding President Trump, which have put Republicans on the back foot.

GOP senators are likely to have to vote on Trump’s impeachment before voters go to the polls next November, which could be a problem for vulnerable incumbents such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Thom Tillis (N.C.).

Four of them were outraised by their Democratic opponents in the third quarter of 2019 and all five have higher disapproval than approval ratings in their home states, according to a Morning Consult tracking poll.

Collins, for example, has a 49 percent disapproval rating compared to a 43 percent approval rating.

Strategists in both parties say the presidential race will have a big effect on Senate races, and Trump’s numbers have softened since Democrats launched their impeachment push. A wild card in the race for the Senate, however, is the Democratic presidential nominee.

“Trump’s approval ratings have definitely been on the lower end of his historic range,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication that tracks Senate races.

“If you’re Susan Collins or Martha McSally or Cory Gardner this does not help the cause of your reelection to have to take these votes. It doesn’t help,” she said.

John Weaver, a longtime strategist to the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he “definitely” thinks the impeachment debate will have an impact on Senate races.

“I think impeachment is playing and will play an important role in the shaping of the future of the Senate,” Weaver said. “The president is underwater with his job approval in certain states and many of those states happen to be ones where Republican members are polling in the 30s and low 40s with their reelect — and those states include Arizona and Colorado and North Carolina and Maine, for example.”

“The number among independents should be greatly alarming to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.] We’re talking about a massive turnout election in 2020, the kind of which we’ve not seen in a generation,” he added. “This is not something where [Republicans] can rely on a base to win. When independents turn like this, like they’re starting to turn, it’s probably the indication of another blue wave.”

Told that Senate Republicans have privately admitted they are concerned over what they see as Trump’s disorganized response, Duffy said “they should be.”

Polls show that Trump’s disapproval rating is near the highest point of his presidency.

{mossecondads}A Rasmussen Reports survey published Monday showed the president’s disapproval rating at 54 percent, 9 points higher than in late September.

A Quinnipiac University Poll published last week showed that 55 percent of voters approve of the House impeachment inquiry, the highest level seen so far.

But other polls show support for the president isn’t crumbling.

A Marquette University Law School poll published last week showed that only 44 percent of voters in Wisconsin, which is considered a key “tipping point” state, favor impeaching Trump and removing him from office, while 51 percent do not support that outcome.

An Emerson Polling survey conducted in mid-October showed that 48 percent of Iowa voters oppose impeachment, while 42 percent support it.

A series of recent missteps and setbacks, however, has made Senate Republicans nervous about the emerging political picture.

One damaging blow came earlier this month when White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted at a press conference that the administration held up military aid to Ukraine in order to press Ukrainian officials to investigate corruption possibly related to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Another came last week when William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to the Ukraine, testified before the House that military assistance to Ukraine was explicitly tied to investigating Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate.

A senior Senate Republican strategist predicted the impeachment will play out differently in different states.

In Democratic-leaning states, it’s likely to be a problem for Republican incumbents who will have to contend with energized Democratic voters. But in Republican-leaning states, such as Alabama, the effect will be the reverse, with GOP voters mobilizing in defense of Trump.

“It’s a shirts and skins game,” the strategist said.

A second Republican strategist said that impeachment could also boomerang to hurt Democratic candidates.

“I think it’s telling that no Democratic Senate candidate out there has embraced this issue, even in Colorado and Maine. Democrats have not yet used this as a wedge issue to really emphasize on the campaign trail,” the strategist said.

The strategist said “independent voters are still a bit concerned that Democrats in the House are overreaching on this subject.”

The Senate’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents have avoided commenting on Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine or on other reported findings of the House impeachment investigation.

Collins has told reporters that she needs to maintain her neutrality as a potential juror, Gardner often keeps a cellphone pressed to his ear as he speed-walks through the Capitol and McSally says she’s focused on her Senate work.

But these vulnerable incumbents and other Republicans facing tough races will likely have to vote on articles of impeachment passed by the House at some point in the near future.

James Wallner, a former Senate Republican aide, said Collins and Gardner, who represent states Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016, face the biggest danger because “you could have a situation where an impeachment trial emboldens the base on the Democratic side and drives turnout.”

But Wallner noted that “an impeachment trial also gives them an o pportunity to distinguish themselves vis-a-vis the Republican Party.”

“If there is a trial, it gives Gardner the opportunity to — depending on how that trial is concluded — to say, ‘Look, I’m not your average Republican,’ ” by voting for a censure resolution or in favor of an article of impeachment, he added.

Senate Republicans face another disadvantage: They must defend 22 seats compared to the 12 that Democrats must defend.

Only Jones, who won a surprising upset in a 2017 special election where he faced a Republican opponent accused of sexual misconduct toward underage girls, is considered truly vulnerable in the Democratic conference.

Tags Cory Gardner Donald Trump doug jones Hillary Clinton Impeachment Joe Biden John McCain Joni Ernst Martha McSally Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Rasmussen Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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