Dave Loebsack

At the Races: Managing impeachment (and the spotlight)

By Bridget Bowman, Simone Pathé and Stephanie Akin 

Welcome to At the Races! Each week we’ll bring you news and analysis from the CQ Roll Call team that will keep you informed about the 2020 election. Know someone who’d like to get this newsletter? They can subscribe here.

New Hampshire’s Kuster backs Buttigieg
Kuster is first from Granite State delegation to make an endorsement

New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster is backing Pete Buttigieg for president. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New Hampshire Rep. Ann McLane Kuster backed former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg for president Wednesday night, less than a month before the Democratic presidential primary in the Granite State.

“With our country so consumed by division, Pete Buttigieg is the leader who can finally turn the page on the Trump presidency and bring our nation together,” Kuster tweeted. “He has the courage to break from the past to lead us to a better future — I’m excited to endorse him to be our next president.”

Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer endorses Joe Biden
Finkenauer is the first House member from Iowa to back a candidate in the presidential race

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination on Thursday.(Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Iowa Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer announced Thursday that she is endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden in the presidential primary, becoming the first Iowa Democratic House member to back a candidate in the race.

Joe Biden’s character, record, and commitment to rebuilding the backbone of the country — the middle class — is what Iowa and this country needs,” the first-term congresswoman said in a statement. “Across the country, and especially in Iowa, too many families are being left behind by our current president. It’s time we have leadership in the White House who believes in the value of not only uniting a divided Congress, but uniting our country through common sense, dignity, and respect.”

House ratings changes: A dozen races shift toward Democrats
Combination of self-inflicted wounds, slow recruiting and suburbs continuing to shift against Trump diminish GOP chances

Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig is among the Democrats whose reelection chances have improved, according to the latest ratings by Inside Elections. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Most Republicans believe their party has weathered the 2018 storm and brighter days are ahead in 2020. But that perspective doesn’t mean the GOP’s chances of retaking the House are particularly good.

Even if the national political environment isn’t as bad for the GOP as the midterms when they suffered a net loss of 40 House seats, there’s little evidence that President Donald Trump will dramatically improve his 2016 performance in key competitive districts next year.

States in the Midwest with outsize roles in the 2020 elections
Rust Belt states helped decide the presidency, and have numerous competitive races for House, Senate

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst’s reelection is one of several that make Iowa at battleground state in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

If there’s an abiding lesson from 2016, it’s that national public opinion in the presidential race is not as important as the votes of individual states. Republican Donald Trump won by taking 304 electoral votes to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 227, even as Clinton beat him by 2.9 million votes and 2.1 percentage points nationally.

In 2020, Democrats will be looking to recapture states Trump won that went for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. And many of those states will also be prime battlegrounds in the fight for control of the Senate, where Democrats need a net gain of four seats to take a majority (three if they win the White House and the vice president can break 50-50 ties), while Republicans need a net gain of 19 seats to retake the House.

Mostly smoke, and little fire, from Republicans to Democrats on impeachment
GOP hasn’t yet launched a credible campaign against 8 of the 13 vulnerable Democrats it is targeting

Republicans are targeting Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria, center, and other Democrats who are defending districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016 even though no credible candidate has yet to emerge to challenge her. (Screenshot from RNC ad)

ANALYSIS — Republicans are publicly celebrating impeachment as a political boon and trying to hold House Democrats’ feet to the fire with television ads and protests. But without credible challengers, it’s little more than expensive hot air.

Last week, President Donald Trump’s campaign manager bragged about turning up the heat on a freshman Democrat who supports the impeachment inquiry, and the Republican National Committee is on television targeting a dozen Democratic members for supporting it. But in most instances, there’s a lot of smoke and little fire, considering Republicans are still searching for credible candidates in many of the districts.

2020 strategy: If you can’t beat ’em — move
Pete Sessions becomes third Republican ex-member to try comeback in different district

Former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions is one of three Republicans making comeback bids to the House from a different district. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions on Thursday became the third former Republican congressman to announce a 2020 comeback bid in a different district from the one he previously served, joining Darrell Issa of California and Bobby Schilling, who once represented Illinois and now is running in Iowa. 

Sessions represented suburban Dallas for 22 years, but lost his bid for a 12th term in Texas’ 32nd District to Democrat Colin Allred by nearly 7 points last November.

Democrats need rural voters to put Iowa in play in 2020
Party hopes to build on midterm gains, but hasn’t settled on the right approach

John Olsen from Des Moines, Iowa, wears a vest with presidential buttons as he listens to former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines on Aug. 8. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

GREENFIELD, Iowa — The sunlight sparkled on Greenfield Lake on a hot Sunday in August as the Democrats passed around a paper bowl, tossing in a few dollars they had in their pockets.

It was a scene that could easily have taken place in a church earlier that day, when parishioners offer donations as baskets are passed through the pews.

Iowa Democrats stress rural roots as they vie to take on Sen. Joni Ernst
National groups back Theresa Greenfield, but she faces a fight for nomination

Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield attends at a picnic hosted by the Adair County Democratic Party in Greenfield earlier this month. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

GREENFIELD, Iowa — Facing a group of Democrats gathered in a brick park shelter here, Theresa Greenfield pitched herself as the best candidate to take on Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst

“I am a businesswoman, and I am a mother of four, and I am a farm girl,” the real estate executive told attendees at the Adair County Democratic Party potluck earlier this month. 

House freshmen try to keep it local as presidential race steals the spotlight
Iowa Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer are taking similar approaches to their reelections

Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, flips pork burgers at the Iowa State Fair. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

DES MOINES — Rep. Cindy Axne’s letter to Customs and Border Protection about African swine fever didn’t make national news. But it did prompt a “thank you” from a man with the Iowa Pork Association as Axne flipped pork burgers last week at the Iowa State Fair.

Attention to issues like that disease, which could threaten the country’s pork industry if it reached the U.S., is how first-term Democratic lawmakers like Axne are working to win reelection in 2020.