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Impeachment and Senate trial could spur voter turnout on both sides

Humberto Sanchez
Humberto Sanchez
CongressElection 2020ElectionsGovernment
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Dina Titus at a podium in a blue shirt and tan jacket

The likely House impeachment of President Donald Trump and subsequent Senate trial could jolt Nevada, where voters showed up in droves in the last midterm and presidential elections. 

The effects of impeachment proceedings in Nevada are seen by lawmakers and political activists as two-fold: to motivate voters and to give an advantage to Democratic presidential candidates who aren’t in the Senate and won’t be detained in Washington during a potentially lengthy Senate trial. 

“If anything, people are more energized, probably, to turn out because they're more fired up by what they're hearing and what they will be hearing,” said Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, who last month endorsed Vice President Joe Biden.

On the GOP side, Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Will Sexauer predicted that the House impeachment and Senate trial would excite Republican voters on Election Day. The state GOP plans to nominate Trump and will not hold a 2020 caucus. 

“All it has done is motivate Nevada Republicans to turn out in force to re-elect President Trump and hold Democrats up and down the ballot accountable next year,” Sexauer said in a statement.

A Senate trial, expected to begin in January, could benefit Biden, who leads in Nevada, according to a recent poll conducted for The Nevada Independent. His closest competition comes from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who would be pulled off of the campaign trail to be jurors in the trial. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who poll below the frontrunners, would also have to come off of the trail.

“They basically have to attend and if the trial drags on at all, then those are days not in Iowa, New Hampshire, and especially Nevada,” said Eric Herzik, the chair of UNR’s political science department. “I say ‘especially Nevada’ as that is a long flight from Washington, D.C.”

“As the early primary states rely heavily on more ‘retail’ and face-to-face work, this is no small advantage,” Herzik continued. “Biden can also claim a kind of special status in comments about impeachment given that Trump specifically went after him and his son. He can hammer the point that he is the candidate Trump most fears.”

Of course, that advantage could fall to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is in fourth place in the state, if Biden is called to give testimony in the trial. 

The Democrats argue that Trump abused his power when he asked the Ukrainian president on a July 25 phone call to investigate Biden, a political rival, his withholding of military aid and possible efforts to cover up his actions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved the House closer to impeaching Trump when she instructed the Democratic leaders of the Judiciary Committee and five other panels Thursday to draft articles of impeachment, which would formally charge the president with violating his oath of office. The move came a day after the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment.

Once cleared by the judiciary panel, House Democrats are likely to approve the articles, with little to no GOP support, by the end of the year.

The Senate would then hold a trial which is expected—as with the trial following the impeachment of President Bill Clinton—to end with a climactic vote on whether to remove Trump from office. 

The trial, which could begin in January and have an unknown duration, would come weeks before Nevada Democrats begin early caucus voting on Feb. 15 through Feb. 18. The caucus will take place on Feb. 22. Clinton’s trial began on Jan. 7, 1999, and ended Feb. 12, 1999. 

As with the House’s public hearings, the Senate trial will receive intense media coverage and Nevada voters will be inundated with news stories documenting Democrats’ arguments that Trump abused the power of his office by pressing a foreign government for assistance in the 2020 election.

But with Republicans holding a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate, Trump’s acquittal is, at the moment, the likeliest outcome. That’s because Republicans in both chambers have closed ranks behind the president against his removal and a two-thirds majority vote is needed to succeed in the Senate. That means that 20 Republicans would need to vote with all Democrats to remove Trump—an unlikely scenario. 

“Acquittal will activate the base vote in each party,” Herzik said. 

He added that Trump’s base will be buoyed by a Senate vote that falls short of convicting the president. They “will claim full innocence and that nothing unseemly happened,” he said.

Herzik cautioned that Democrats will need to “stay focused on defeating Trump” and refrain from rehashing the impeachment “since regular — less partisan — voters will be suffering investigation fatigue and move on to the election ahead.”

But David Damore, a professor and chair of UNLV’s political science department, said anyone who participates in the Democratic caucus is already energized, so the impeachment and trial may not have much effect.

“My sense is that any Democrat who participates in the caucuses already strongly supports impeachment and anything that happens in a Senate trial is just going to reinforce that,” he said.

He believes that Republicans may have lost an opportunity to strengthen campaign infrastructure and solidify support for Trump by not holding their caucus.

“By canceling their caucuses, which were just glorified straw polls anyway, the GOP denied itself an opportunity to demonstrate Trump's support in the state in the face of impeachment,” Damore said. “This also deprives the party of an opportunity to register new voters and build its anemic infrastructure."

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