January 29, 2020


The Trump impeachment and trial is all about positioning - namely: the Democrats positioning their eventual nominee to beat the president on Nov. 5, to have a net gain of three U.S. Senate seats, and to retain their 232-197 U.S. House majority.

Everybody knows that Trump is not going to be convicted by a vote of 67 or more senators, but the PROCESS is what matters. And everybody knows that electing a Democratic president is utterly meaningless without a Democratic Senate.

The continuing trial is about making four Republican senators who are on the 2020 ballot take hard votes on allowing witnesses, which can be used against them.

The Senate is now 53-47 Republican, with 35 seats at stake this year, of which 23 are held by a Republican and just 12 by a Democrat. The arithmetic - and logic - favors the Democrats, Republicans are first-termers elected in the 2014 anti-Obama wave. But ten of the 11 represent states that Trump won in 2016. In fact, 21 of the 23 Republicans represent 2016 pro-Trump states.

The prevailing Washington consensus is that, given current partisan polarization, and given the shortcomings of Democratic presidential aspirants, at least 19 sitting Republican senators or Republican-held seats are SAFE - in AZ, AR, GA, ID, IA, KS, KY, LA, MS, MT, NE, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, WV and WY. Those in Wyoming, Tennessee, Kansas and one in Georgia are open, with the incumbent retiring, but are not deemed competitive at this time. Contests in CO, NC, ME and AZ, seats held, respectively, by Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, Susan Collins and Martha McSally, are definitely IN PLAY, and their respective trial votes will have a huge impact. Colorado and Maine went for Clinton in 2016, albeit narrowly. Each incumbent has a 45/45/10 constituency, meaning almost half pro-Trump, half anti-Trump, and the remainder unaligned. They need to keep their state's Trump base satisfied. They need to pull in more than half the undecided. And they have to Trump win (or in CO and ME, come close) to get re-elected. If Trump fatigue builds, or the economy tanks, they could all go down, as well as senate candidates in KY, IA and KS.

The 12 Democratic-held seats are in AL, DE, IL, MA, MI, MN, NH, NJ, HM, OR, RI and VA. All except Alabama and Michigan were carried by significant margins by Clinton in 2016. Obviously, the latter two states are IN PLAY and senators Doug Jones and Gary Peters, both expected to vote to convict, will face pro-Trump voter pushback.

The current presumption is that two of the four most vulnerable Republicans will lose, along with Jones. That means a 52-48 Senate during 2021-22.

Among the more intriguing contests are ALABAMA, which Jones won 673,896-651,972 over a flawed Republican in a 2017 special election after incumbent Jeff Sessions resigned to become U.S. attorney general. That was his reward for being the first senator to endorse Trump, back in 2015. He didn't last long. Now, at age 73, he's running for his old seat, and being attacked as anti-Trump. His foes include former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, congressman Bradley Byrne, AL secretary of state John Merrill and former judge Roy Moore, the 2017 loser. Tuberville, running as "The Coach," is a celebrity in a state which Trump won 1,318,255-729,547 in 2016; he leads all polling, and is a fresh political face. Jones is a goner.

COLORADO is a revolving-door state, regularly swinging left or right every 8 to 10 years. Clinton won the state 1,335,593-1,202,404 in 2016, and Gardner won his seat by 39,688 votes in 2014. The state is on a leftward trajectory, but not on a democratic socialist trajectory. Sanders or Warren would be a tough sell, as there are a lot of liberal entrepreneurs making a lot of money in the state. Former governor John Hickenlooper (D), age 68, briefly a presidential candidate and a "moderate," is running...and is favored to beat Gardner.

MAINE likes politicians that are independent-minded and quirky, like Collins once was but may not now be. She had her nationalizing moment when she voted for Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court justice, and will have another at the Trump trial vote on the witnesses issue. Clinton won the state 357,735-335,593 in 2016. She has a lose-lose situation: She is going to alienate a whole lot of people, and probably already has. Her opponent IS state House speaker Sara Gideon (D). Expect Collins to vote for witnesses, and then to acquit. She will lose by 1,000 votes or less on Nov. 5.

The iconic Jesse Helms' (1972-2002) NORTH CAROLINA seat is up, and Tillis is struggling in a state with a rapid population influx, primarily northern retirees and high-tech geeks. Elizabeth Dole (R) won in 2002, lost to Kay Hagen (D) in 2008, who then lost 1,423,259-1,377,651 to Tillis, the state House speaker, in 2014. Trump beat Clinton 2,362,631-2,189,316. In order to win, Tillis needs a statewide Trump majority of CHANGE 200,000-plus. Democratic candidates are not formidable: state legislators Cal Cunningham and Erica Smith. Tillis caught a break when pro-Trump zealot Garland Tucker quit the primary, saving Tillis about $2 million.

If one is looking for diversity, look no further than MICHIGAN, which was won 2,279,543-2,268,839 by Trump in 2016. The president MUST win it again - along with Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin (but maybe not Pennsylvania) - to be re-elected. First-termer Gary Peters (D) is up, has an unexceptional record, and faces John Jones, an African-American conservative Republican pro-Trump businessman, who lost the 2018 Senate race 2,214,478-1,938,818, a margin of 275,660 votes. The Trump-Jones vote will be synonymous. If Trump wins Michigan by 75-100,000, so does Jones.

There is always some office-seeking Kennedy in MASSACHUSETTS, and this year 39-year old congressman Joe Kennedy III is challenging incumbent Ed Markey, a political lifer who has been in Washington since 1976, 37 years in the House and 7 in the Senate, in the Sept. primary. Kennedy's father was a congressman, his grandfather Robert and great-uncle Ted a senator, and great-uncle John a president. Polls show Kennedy an easy winner.

Trump won ARIZONA 1,252,401-1,161,167 in 2016, but in a 2018 race between two congresswomen - McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) - the Democrat won 1,191,100-1,135,200. But John McCain had died, and McSally got appointed to his seat. Here 2020 opponent will be former astronaut Mark Kelly (D) who is raising money at a rapid clip, especially from pro-choice and pro-gun control sources. Over $20 million will be spent, a state record. Polls show Kelley ahead by a couple points, with both in the mid-40s. If Trump loses AZ, so will McSally.

KANSAS is a three-party state. When Republicans nominate a mainstream/moderately conservative candidate, they win statewide. When they pick a hot-button social conservative, they lose, as anti-immigration crusader Kris Kobach did for governor in 2018. Incumbent Pat Roberts (R) is retiring. The current rumor is that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Wichita congressman, wants to bail and run for senator.

Kobach is running, as is congressman Roger Marshall. A Republican legislator, Barbara Bollier, switched parties and is running as a Democrat. Kobach is the only Republican who could lose. Trump won 671,018-427,805.

The South's male-dominated Republican Party ain't what it used to be. A woman, Cindi Hyde-Smith, was appointed to an open Mississippi Senate seat in 2017, and then elected. A woman, Kelly Loeffler, was just appointed to GEORGIA's open seat. Loeffler is owner of the Atlanta Dream, a women's professional basketball team, and has promised to spend $20 million to win the special election. Trump wanted congressman Doug Collins, the House Judiciary's ranking Republican, appointed. He may primary her. Trump won Georgia 2,089,104-1,877,963. Incumbent David Perdue's (R) seat is also up. Expect Perdue and Loeffler to win.

And lastly there is good ol' Mitch McConnell in KENTUCKY, who runs the good ol' U.S. Senate's Republican majority with an iron fist, and makes it a pathway for the confirmation of conservative judges and a graveyard for liberal House legislation AND IMPEACHMENT.

Trump won 1,202,791-628,854, a massive 62 percent majority. Democrats have picked army veteran Amy McGrath, who lost a 2018 bid for Congress. Positioning herself as the "Get Rid of Mitch" candidate, she has raised $10.7 million, mostly from national sources; McConnell has raised $6.2 million. If voters really, really want a change, Kentucky would be the obvious place to start.

Don't count on it.

Send an e-mail to russ@ russstewart.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.