Impeachment fallout threatens to upend battle for Senate

The political battle scars from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE's impeachment trial are the new wild card heading into this year's fight for control of the Senate. 

The near party-line votes to acquit Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress are most likely to impact the reelection bids for Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package MORE (R-Maine) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who were already considered two of the most vulnerable senators heading into November.

Collins has presented herself to voters as an independent, but that branding took a hit Wednesday when Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Granting cash payments is a conservative principle 7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package MORE (R-Utah) cast the only Republican vote to remove Trump from office.

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Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, Collins’s Democratic challenger, quickly seized on Wednesday’s vote to tie her opponent to Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill On The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors MORE (R-Ky.). 

“Her decision to acquit despite the case against the president and without hearing more of the facts again reveals her commitment to standing with Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump,” Gideon said in a statement.

Emily’s List, a pro-Democratic PAC, has since sent out several fundraising emails targeting Collins and other vulnerable GOP incumbents.

Collins is one of only two Senate Republicans, the other being Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRomney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Markets expected to plunge amid partisan squabbling MORE (Colo.), running for reelection in a state that former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' Poll: Biden holds slight edge on Trump in Wisconsin MORE carried in 2016. But unlike Gardner, Collins has staked much of her reputation as being an independent voice in the Senate.

Democrats will try to unseat Collins this year by chipping away at that reputation, pointing to two of her most consequential votes in recent years: her support of Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughCoronavirus isn't the only reason Congress should spend less time in DC Progressives urge Democrats to hear from federal judge deeply critical of Roberts, conservatives Trump Jr. says he inherited 'Tourette's of the thumbs' from his father MORE’s nomination to the Supreme Court and her opposition to the two articles of impeachment against Trump.

Janet Martin, a professor of government at Bowdoin College in Maine, noted that Collins launched her reelection campaign in December with a statewide advertising campaign touting herself as an independent senator willing to work across party lines.

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But Martin, who once worked for former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine), said Collins’s brand as an independent was undercut by Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office.

“I’d say she’s not at all in the same league as Mitt Romney,” Martin said. “She’s not in the league of a [former Republican Sen.] Bill Cohen [R-Maine] or a George Mitchell,” alluding to two former senators known for bipartisanship. 

A senior Senate GOP aide provided a similar assessment Wednesday after the trial votes.

“It puts Sen. Collins in a real bad spot to have someone run in that independent [lane] that she typically does. This is such a tough vote for her,” the source said.

Martin pointed out that one advantage Collins has is her reputation for providing excellent constituent services, something she may lean into in the months ahead.

“Her emphasis has always been on service,” Martin said. “She provides service unlike any other senator. And so servicing constituent needs might trump Trump in this particular case. But that’s the only way I could see her having success as the incumbent.”

A poll released in late January by the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, a Democratic firm, found that 53 percent of Maine voters said they believed Trump abused his power for personal benefit by withholding military aid to Ukraine.

Geoff Garin, the president of the firm, released polling in early January showing that 63 percent of voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina would react unfavorably if the Republican incumbents in those states voted against subpoenaing new witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial.

Collins was the only Republican senator up for reelection to vote for reviewing new evidence, while Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic New bill would withhold pay from Senate until coronavirus stimulus package passes Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads MORE (Ariz.), Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNorth Carolina Senate race emerges as 2020 bellwether The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina emerges as key battleground for Senate control Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (N.C.) and Gardner all voted no.

Thomas Volgy, a political science professor at the University of Arizona and former Democratic mayor of Tucson, said, “I think the intensity of opposition to McSally just increased.”

Senate Democrats are now hoping to use that as ammo in this year’s election.

“Senators of both parties have said President Trump is guilty of misconduct, but the Republican incumbents on the ballot this year did not have the courage or honesty to uphold the rule of law,” said Lauren Passalacqua, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “They blocked subpoenas to hear from witnesses and are complicit in orchestrating Mitch McConnell’s cover-up at the expense of a fair trial.”

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Gardner’s vote drew a strong rebuke from The Denver Post, which endorsed him in 2014. 

“Gardner once said he would stand up to his own party. Turns out he won’t even be critical of the actions of a member of his own party. He must believe what Trump did was fine. Why won’t he just say that?” the paper said in an editorial published Thursday.

In Arizona, McSally has taken criticism from former allies for repeatedly evading questions from reporters before the Senate trial on where she stood on the question of subpoenaing new evidence.

The Eastern Arizona Courier, which endorsed McSally’s appointment to the Senate after she lost her 2018 Senate race to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), scolded her for calling a CNN reporter a “liberal hack” when the journalist asked her about considering new evidence.

“It’s reasonable to disagree with policy. What is not reasonable is name-calling like a third-grader on the playground,” the paper wrote in an editorial. 

But it’s far from a sure bet that voters will care about impeachment nine months from now, particularly since there isn’t much evidence the trial captured the attention of Americans the way it riveted Washington and much of the media. 

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McConnell on Wednesday downplayed the impact of the impeachment trial on the 2020 battle for the Senate. 

“I still think we had great teamwork on this, and I think we’re in a good position going into our Senate races and the presidential race with regard to this issue. There may be plenty of other issues between now and November, but I think we’re in pretty good shape right now,” he said. 

Republicans point to polling data collected by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in battleground states such as Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina in January showing that 62 percent of voters — and 63 percent of independents — believed Congress should focus on health care costs, trade and the economy instead of removing Trump from office.

The NRSC polling also found that 58 percent of voters in those states thought Democrats should let the November election decide Trump’s future instead of a vote in the Senate.

Republicans will try to paint the impeachment effort as motivated primarily by pressure on Democrats from their liberal base. 

“Every Senate Democrat – incumbent and candidate alike – bent to the whims of the extreme voices in their Party, which continues to embarrass itself on a national stage. They’ve been hell-bent on impeaching this President since the day he took office and it’s wearing thin with voters in battleground states,” NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt said in a statement. 

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That message, however, is undercut by Romney’s vote to remove Trump from office, the first time in American history a senator voted to convict a president from his own party on an article of impeachment. 

Romney prefaced his vote with a searing floor speech in which he said Trump was “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust” and “a flagrant assault on our electoral rights.”

While other GOP senators didn’t go as far as Romney, several also criticized Trump’s conduct.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (R-Tenn.) called the president’s actions “inappropriate” and “wrong,” while Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break Turning the virus into a virtue — for the planet MORE (R-Alaska) called them “shameful” and “wrong.” 

Of the Democrats running for reelection this year, Jones, who represents a state Trump won by a 28-point margin in 2016, will be most impacted by the impeachment debate.

His votes to convict Trump on both articles of impeachment likely will seal his defeat, but given his long-shot path to victory, they won’t change the calculus for Senate control greatly.

“I think he’s done. I think he was done before that, to be perfectly honest with you,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican strategist who has worked extensively on Alabama races. “I think, literally, what he’s doing is he’s auditioning for the next Democratic presidential Cabinet. I think he wants to be attorney general or something else.”

A Democratic strategist pushed back on that analysis by pointing out that Jones is substantially ahead of his likely GOP opponent, former Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama postpones March 31 GOP Senate runoff Biden has broken all the 'rules' of presidential primaries The Hill's Campaign Report: Defiant Sanders vows to stay in race MORE (R-Ala.), in fundraising. 

Jones reported $5.4 million in cash on hand at the end of the fourth quarter, while Sessions reported $2.54 million and Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneSessions to face Tuberville in Alabama GOP Senate runoff This week: House eyes vote on emergency coronavirus funding The 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (R-Ala.), who is also vying for the seat, had $2.52 million.