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Buttigieg set to reap benefits as impeachment bogs down key rivals

Buttigieg set to reap benefits as impeachment bogs down key rivals

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegSenate confirms former Michigan governor Granholm as Energy secretary Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary Biden to detail 'roadmap' for partnership with Canada in meeting with Trudeau MORE (D) may be the top-tier presidential contender set to have the best January.

Unlike Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Becerra says he wants to 'build on' ObamaCare when pressed on Medicare for All MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Sanders slams parliamentarian decision on minimum wage Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill MORE (I-Vt.) he won't be pulled off the campaign trail for an impeachment trial of still-to-be-determined length, and unlike former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden 'disappointed' in Senate parliamentarian ruling but 'respects' decision Taylor Swift celebrates House passage of Equality Act Donald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' MORE, he won't have to answer questions about his role in the controversy surrounding impeachment.

Instead, he'll have the opportunity to hit the campaign trail and focus on kitchen table issues that voters say they care most about, such as health care and the economy, at a time when the country is still divided on impeachment. 

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“If Buttigieg has the opportunity to talk more about kitchen table issues that voters really care about — their financial well-being, their health care — and the other candidates are out there talking about impeachment, whether they're playing offense or defense, then that gives him more of an opportunity to score points with those voters,” said Michael Gordon, a Democratic strategist and principal at Group Gordon.

The impeachment process comes as Buttigieg has begun to plateau in a number of polls after experiencing a bump in November and December. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday, for example, showed Buttigieg dropping from second to fourth place. 

Buttigieg will now have a chance to be at the center of attention with the critical early primary and caucus voters who will help determine the next Democratic nominee.

Both Warren and Sanders, two of his main competitors, are likely to be pulled into an impeachment trial in the Senate as the House gears up to pass two articles of impeachment against President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE on Wednesday: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) have yet to agree on what a trial in the upper chamber would look like.

However, the contours of what a potential trial could look like are starting to take shape, with senators expecting a proceeding that would run every day but Sunday, from early afternoon until early evening, on the Senate floor.

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That does not include the frequent caucus meetings and strategy sessions that will pop up before and after the official actions, virtually assuring that the senators still in the presidential race — including Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats: Minimum wage isn't the only issue facing parliamentarian Democrats plan crackdown on rising drug costs Overnight Health Care: Biden officials announce funding to track virus variants | Senate Dems unveil public option proposal | White House: Teacher vaccinations not required for schools to reopen MORE (D-Colo.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (D-Minn.) — will have to spend all of their time in Washington.

It is still unknown how long a Senate trial would last, with some Republicans advocating a quick trial with no witnesses while some Democrats want a longer trial with testimony that could drag the process for weeks. The 1999 impeachment trial of former President Clinton lasted about five weeks, running from Jan. 7 until Feb. 12.

Whether impeachment can help senators running for president is also unclear. Though the Republican-controlled Senate is widely expected to acquit Trump, a survey of polls by CNN found opposition just about edging out support for impeaching and removing the president.

“It’s clear that real voters don’t care that much about impeachment,” Gordon said. “They care about getting good work, they care about their financial well-being, they care about their health care, and so they're willing to overlook a lot of personal and other issues that are not square to their lives.” 

That presents opportunities for Buttigieg in a critical stretch of the nomination race, with Iowa set to hold its caucus on Feb. 3, potentially still in the midst of an impeachment trial.

Though Biden will also be present on the trail, the former vice president will likely face questions about his role in the origins of the impeachment probe after Trump and Republicans have accused him of seeking to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor who had investigated an energy company that employed his son Hunter Biden.

Buttigieg, who has voiced his support for impeachment, lacks any connections to the probe, allowing him to use the bulk of January to focus on his message of unifying the Democratic Party.

“This lets him speak to the values that he’s going to bring, and he would bring as president,” Democratic strategist Jon Reinish told The Hill. “That’s not a bad place to be for him ... up at 30,000 feet."

Buttigieg has long pitched himself as a fresh face in a political world dominated by gridlock, telling CBS News last month that there is "energy for an outsider like me" in the race.

"It doesn't work with just any outsider — it matters what you care about and whether you're committed to uniting, rather than dividing the American people as president," Buttigieg told the network. 

Strategists say that Buttigieg’s distance from impeachment proves his point. It is an advantage that Buttigieg can likely continue to chase in a drawn-out nomination process given his second term as South Bend mayor is set to end at the end of the year, allowing him to devote his full time to campaigning.

“I think this proves the point of what he’s been saying all along,” one Democratic strategist told The Hill. “He seems to represent a different type of experience. It doesn’t necessarily come from Washington, and this is going to put a big exclamation point on that.” 

However, a Senate trial does not ensure that Buttigieg is headed for a cakewalk ahead of Iowa.

Buttigieg has been dealing with a number of issues that have hurt his standing, including his low level of support from African American voters. 

Critically, the senators running for president can also seek to take the spotlight during an impeachment trial. Though polls show a divided country when it comes to impeachment, surveys also show that Democrats strongly back it, giving candidates like Sanders and Warren an opportunity to win over some of the primary voters.

But even then, strategists warn a trial still presents more risks to the 2020 candidates from the Senate than it does for Buttigieg.

"Contrary to popular belief, not all press is good press," said the Democratic strategist. "If this is seen as a very Washington story, that may result in negative blowback to the senators.”