GOP wields im­peach­ment weapon

Ads take aim at vul­ner­a­ble Dems in 2020 House races

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Fram

WASHINGTON — Repub­li­cans aim to use the House drive to­ward im­peach­ing Pres­i­dent Donald Trump to whit­tle down Democrats’ ma­jor­ity by dis­lodg­ing vul­ner­a­ble in­cum­bents from swing districts loaded with mod­er­ate vot­ers.

It could work, es­pe­cially in Demo­cratic-held districts Trump car­ried in 2016 with throngs of in­de­pen­dent vot­ers who polls shows are closely di­vided over his re­moval. Or it could flop, in an era when news zooms by so swiftly that today’s con­cerns may be eclipsed in 11 months and many peo­ple are more fo­cused on pock­et­book is­sues such as health care costs.

“It will be part of the mo­saic, but hardly the over­rid­ing is­sue,” GOP poll­ster Whit Ayres pre­dicted about im­peach­ment’s ef­fect next Novem­ber.

What’s clear is that for now, Repub­li­cans are wield­ing im­peach­ment mostly as an of­fen­sive weapon and Democrats are gen­er­ally play­ing de­fense or chang­ing the subject as 2020 con­gres­sional races rev up. House Democrats will be de­fend­ing their 233-197 ma­jor­ity, with four va­can­cies. Repub­li­cans will try pre­serv­ing their 53-47 Se­nate con­trol.

Since late Septem­ber, Repub­li­cans and their al­lies have spent $8 mil­lion on im­peach­ment-re­lated TV ads aimed at House mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to Ad­ver­tis­ing An­a­lyt­ics, a non­par­ti­san firm that ex­am­ines po­lit­i­cal spend­ing. That’s triple the sum spent by Democrats and their sup­port­ers.

The Amer­i­can Ac­tion Network, closely aligned with House GOP lead­ers, has pro­duced TV and dig­i­tal ads at­tack­ing 30 Democrats, mostly fresh­men. Spots also “thank” seven Repub­li­cans for op­pos­ing im­peach­ment, a tac­tic of­ten used to pres­sure law­mak­ers to stand firm.

In one, the an­nouncer ac­cuses Rep. Joe Cun­ning­ham, D- S.C., of aban­don­ing health care and other is­sues to back im­peach­ment and says, “Tell Con­gress­man Cun­ning­ham, ‘Let the vot­ers de­cide elec­tions.’ ” The an­nouncer speaks amid images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., lib­eral Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sioCortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Adam Schiff,

D- Calif., who’s led the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

GOP groups reg­u­larly blast i mpeach­ment­themed fundrais­ing emails. Rel­a­tively ob­scure Repub­li­cans such as Rep. Elise Ste­fanik of up­state New York have reaped cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion bo­nan­zas by tak­ing high-pro­file roles de­fend­ing Trump.

“This process they’re em­bark­ing on is go­ing to cost them their ma­jor­ity next fall,” said Rep. Tom Em­mer, R- Minn., who

heads his party’s House cam­paign com­mit­tee.

Pro- i mpeach­ment groups have run ads at­tack­ing GOP law­mak­ers for sup­port­ing Trump. That in­cluded l i be­ral groups MoveOn and Need to Im­peach, which put bill­board trucks in eight House Repub­li­cans’ districts from Ne­vada to New York that car­ried signs say­ing, “De­fend democ­racy. Im­peach Trump.”

Rep. Cheri Bus­tos, D-Ill., who leads House Democrats’ cam­paign com­mit­tee, said Em­mer is “pre­cisely wrong” about her party.

“When we are not out in

Washington, we are home, in our districts and we are lis­ten­ing to peo­ple ev­ery day, and we are hy­per-fo­cused on lo­cal is­sues,” she said.

Af­ter an ini­tial uptick in sup­port for oust­ing Trump over his ef­forts to pres­sure Ukraine to seek dirt on his Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal ri­vals, vot­ers’ views have jelled.

About 9 in 10 Democrats sup­port re­mov­ing Trump and sim­i­lar shares of Repub­li­cans back him, while in­de­pen­dents are roughly evenly di­vided. Trump seems cer­tain to be im­peached, or found wor­thy of re­moval, by the Demo­cratic-led House but likely

ac­quit­ted by the GOP-ma­jor­ity Se­nate and kept in of­fice.

Last fall’s elec­tions left Democrats in con­trol of 31 seats in districts Trump car­ried in 2016. GOP law­mak­ers hold just three seats in districts Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton won. Democrats also out­num­ber Repub­li­cans 62-30 among fresh­men, who are of­ten more vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets.

Many com­pet­i­tive Demo­cratic seats are in sub­urbs, where cen­trist vot­ers have aban­doned the GOP in re­cent elec­tions over Trump’s coarse be­hav­ior and con­ser­va­tive poli

cies. Repub­li­cans will have to guard against im­peach­ment ac­cel­er­at­ing those de­fec­tions, while Democrats must watch for signs sub­ur­ban vot­ers think they’re over­re­act­ing.

For mod­er­ate Democrats, “the smart re­sponse is to keep do­ing their job, be in the district, meet with con­stituents, lis­ten to what they’re say­ing,” said cen­trist Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., a leader of Democrats’ ef­forts to de­fend en­dan­gered in­cum­bents.

Demo­cratic poll­ster John An­za­lone said his party’s can­di­dates should fo­cus on is­sues that helped clinch their 2018 House takeover.

“I will take any day be­ing able talk about health care and ed­u­ca­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment and wages if they’re talk­ing about im­peach­ment,” An­za­lone said.

The re­verse dy­namic is true in the Se­nate, where per­haps two Democrats and five Repub­li­cans face com­pet­i­tive re­elec­tions. Those in the trick­i­est spots on im­peach­ment in­clude Demo­cratic Sen. Doug Jones of staunchly proTrump Alabama and GOP Sen. Cory Gardner in Demo­cratic-lean­ing Colorado.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

Repub­li­cans look to use the House’s drive to­ward im­peach­ing Pres­i­dent Trump to de­feat Democrats from swing districts.

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