The Democratic impeachment proceedings are poised to be a gift to South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
As Democrats chase their latest attempts to undo the 2016 election, a trial in the Senate is likely to keep several major top tier candidates off the campaign trail while continuing to weigh down the Biden campaign by keeping the former vice president’s shady business dealings with Ukraine in the spotlight.
House Democrats are aiming to hold a vote on impeachment by Christmas, forcing a trial in the Senate to come next year as the primaries get into full swing. Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said the trial could last six to eight weeks, which would require senators on the campaign trail, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, to spend a significant amount of time in Washington rather than in the early contest states as voting gets underway.
“I think it could be a problem,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at The Ohio State University. “Iowa and New Hampshire require more of an on-the-ground commitment.”
Meanwhile, the field’s frontrunner has been plagued with scandal as the impeachment proceedings keep new revelations related to the corrupt nature of the Biden family’s involvement in Ukraine fresh in the public’s mind. Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company for $50,000 a month despite having no prior experience in the industry while Joe Biden oversaw U.S. policy towards Ukraine. Even witnesses testifying in the House’s public impeachment hearings have made the case for investigating the arrangement.
“My concern was that there was the possibility of a perception of a conflict of interest,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
Recent polling shows Biden’s grip on his frontrunner status slipping in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, casting further doubt on the candidate’s ability to make it through the primary. The Biden team has even begun downplaying expectations in Iowa where the former vice president slipped to fourth place in three of the last four major polls conducted in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
That leaves Buttigieg an opportunity to campaign in the critical early nominating contest states in the absence of major rivals, untouched by the impeachment drama unfolding in the nation’s capital.
Beck added that Buttigieg’s status as an outsider candidate may also stand to benefit the mayor, by distancing himself from the political establishment and the circus playing out in Washington.
“It frees him to say ‘hey, I’m not one of them,'” Beck said.
Buttigieg is already surging in Iowa, taking in first place in the latest poll conducted by Monmouth University. Now, the small town mayor is virtually tied with Warren as the Democratic frontrunner in the Hawkeye State with a slim 0.3 points away from eclipsing Warren’s lead.
Concern over Biden’s skid in the polls when coupled with the former vice president’s series of slip-ups this year increases anxiety among party elites worried about nominating a far-left candidate like Warren or Sanders who are polling second and third. The concern has prompted former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to make a last-minute entrance in the race this week likely joined by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has not yet officially declared.
The addition of new rivals in the race have the potential to further chip away at Biden’s broad support, particularly in South Carolina where Biden’s lead is dependent on African-American voters as Patrick, an Obama-ally could begin to peel away this key constituent group.
While impeachment begins to sink the Biden campaign and keep senate rivals off the trail, Buttigieg will be better able to capitalize on the momentum throughout the next stage of the primary.