Campaigns

Impeachment trial takes vulnerable senators off the campaign trail, too

Some senators are refraining from sending fundraising emails

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones walks to the Senate chamber Wednesday before the start of the impeachment trial. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Doug Jones’ campaign is holding an event Friday, but the Alabama Democrat won’t be there. Instead, Valerie Jarrett, an adviser to former President Barack Obama, is hosting the forum on women in leadership in Birmingham.

Jones, the most vulnerable senator in 2020, will be in the Senate chamber for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, alternating between blue and red felt-tipped pens as he takes notes on opening arguments. Sitting with him will be other colleagues who face competitive races, either in November or sooner in party primaries.

The most immediate impact of the Senate trial is on the Democratic senators running for president, who are stuck in the nation’s capital less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses. But the trial also affects vulnerable senators, though with Election Day more than 10 months away, being stuck in the chamber may not hurt their campaigns.

It doesn’t necessarily help, either.

“The one thing you can never get back is time,” said one Democratic operative who has worked on Senate races.

Rob Jesmer, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also said impeachment takes attention away from other issues that could sway persuadable voters.

“There’s not a poll that shows anyone’s up for grabs on this,” Jesmer said. “I think it’s going to be a frustrating couple weeks.”

The trial could be more of a pressing issue for Republicans, who are on defense this cycle — seven of the 10 most vulnerable senators in 2020 are Republican.

“Democratic challengers have a big upper hand right now,” said one GOP operative working on a high-profile Senate race.

But Jesmer and GOP consultant Josh Holmes dismissed the idea that a trial happening this early in the election cycle would have a tangible impact on campaigns.

“It’s not like this is an August recess,” said Josh Holmes, former chief of staff and campaign manager to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Although senators were supposed to be back in their states this week, Holmes noted that lawmakers are typically in Washington this time of year, and Republicans want the trial over quickly because they oppose Trump’s impeachment.

“They want it over because they think it’s not good for the country, not necessarily for their campaign,” Holmes said.

Campaigns adjust

Still, Senate campaigns have had to adjust, putting holds on senators’ calendars in January since it is not clear how long the trial will last.

“We’ve been anticipating the impeachment trial so we worked hard to ensure that I have all the time and attention that I can pay to the impeachment process,” Sen. Edward J. Markey said off the Senate floor Wednesday. The Massachusetts Democrat, who is facing a primary challenge from Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, declined to say whether he was concerned the trial would negatively affect his campaign.

“My job is to do my job,” Markey said.

One of the more immediate impacts of the trial could be on fundraising, with the proceedings cutting into call time and preventing senators from attending fundraising events.

Some senators have been forced to cancel or reschedule fundraisers. The Hill reported that Republicans Dan Sullivan of Alaska, who is up for reelection this year, and Mitt Romney of Utah, who is not, postponed fundraisers originally scheduled for this week. The NRSC also canceled a fundraiser.

Some vulnerable senators are also pausing fundraising during the trial hours. Campaigns for the most vulnerable senators in each party — Jones and Colorado Republican Cory Gardner — are not sending out fundraising emails while they are in the chamber for the trial.

But the potential losses for these campaigns may not be significant, especially since impeachment has been galvanizing grassroots donors in both parties.

“Money finds these races,” Jesmer said.

Simone Pathé contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.