Senators hoping to clinch Iowa caucuses face impeachment wild card

Candidates try to stay relevant here while on jury duty in Washington

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., casts a shadow on an Iowa state flag Friday as she spe
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., casts a shadow on an Iowa state flag Friday as she speaks during a campaign event in Newton. While she is on jury duty at the Senate impeachment trial, she may deploy former presidential candidate Julian Castro to campaign for her in Iowa. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

DES MOINES — The adage about the best way to win the state caucuses, credited to former U.S. Rep. Dave Nagle from Iowa, is to organize, organize, organize — and then get hot at the end.

It would seem less than ideal, then, for any serious caucus candidate to organize, organize, organize — and then leave the state at the end.

Yet that is precisely what three serious players in the tight Iowa race are doing. though not by choice, just more than two weeks before the Feb. 3 caucuses.

The U.S. Senate’s trial for the impeachment of President Donald Trump will lock all 100 U.S. senators — including four Democrats running for president — in Washington, D.C., for the duration of the trial.

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren represent half of the front-running foursome that has led the field in Iowa consistently since late last summer. And U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been surging lately in the polls, creating the possibility that she could catch up.

But now those three — plus the low-polling U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet — have jury duty in the nation’s capital, pulling them off the campaign trail in Iowa at this most critical juncture.

“It doesn’t help,” said David Peterson, a political-science professor at Iowa State University. For those senators in he race, “flying back from D.C. to Des Moines might be your best chance. I think they’re going to be here every chance they get.”


Being pulled off the campaign trail in the final weeks before the caucuses would present a significant challenge during any caucus year. The impact could be exponentially greater now.

For one thing, the race in Iowa remains close at the top, almost within the margin of error: Sanders, Warren, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are separated by just 4.7 percentage points in Real Clear Politics’ rolling average of polling on the race here.

And a majority of Iowa Democrats remain open to persuasion. Polling shows a majority say they have not yet decided on a candidate to support, or that they are willing to have their minds changed.

Such persuasion typically occurs in person at an Iowa campaign rally or coffee house — not from the Senate halls.

“I think this is a huge wild card in the final … days before the Iowa caucuses,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, a political-science professor at Drake University. “Typically, those last three weeks candidates put all of their time, energy, staff, money, everything into really being with Iowa voters and making that final play, making that final pitch to the Iowa voters. …

“And if they’re not here, then I think that is a significant problem for their campaign.”

Warren, after a campaign event Sunday in Des Moines, said she will miss being on the Iowa campaign trail. But she became serious when asked whether the impeachment trial could hurt her campaign’s effort in Iowa by reducing the number of opportunities she will have to appeal directly to all those undecided Iowans.

“There are things that are more important than politics. And that’s the Constitution of the United States of America. I swore an oath, and that oath means defend the constitution,” Warren said. “And a part of that is that no one is above the law, not even the President of the United States. … I take this responsibility very, very seriously.”


The predicament leaves the campaigns to deal with how to overcome their candidate’s absence in Iowa.

Some of the candidates have contemplated using video conferencing to display the candidates at campaign events, according to national reports.

Many will use surrogates. For example, former presidential candidate Julian Castro has campaigned here for Warren. And appearing in the state this weekend for Sanders are policy surrogates Michael Lighty and Alex Lawson.

Klobuchar said she plans to employ her husband and daughter, some of the 13 Iowa state legislators who have endorsed her and the governor of and a congressman from her home state of Minnesota.

“My husband and my daughter are great campaigners, and we have more endorsements of electeds and former electeds than anyone else. And they are ready to go,” Klobuchar said.

She also plans to be campaign herself this weekend in the Corridor.

Having the senators soon off the trail in Iowa could present an opening for Biden and Buttigieg. The latter has been on a post-debate blitz of Iowa: He had 20 events on his schedule between Jan. 15 and Jan. 22.

“I’ll leave it to the analysts to figure out the political effects” of the senators being pulled off the campaign trail, Buttigieg told reporters after an event last week in Newton. “What I know is that we’re going to use every moment available to us, to continue making the case and continue listening to voters, as we are here sharing, learning stories, sharing our priorities and building momentum.”

Peterson said Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar could minimize the impact on their absence if their campaign organizations are operating as needed at this late stage in the caucus calendar.


“At this point hopefully they’ve got their ground game in place, hopefully they’ve got their precinct captains lined up, they’ve got their get-out-the-caucus effort all set,” Peterson said. “If the infrastructure is there, I don’t think it’s going to be as big an advantage for say Biden and Buttigieg as it might otherwise be.”

And, Peterson suggested, the impeachment trial actually could provide an opportunity for those senators they might not get on the ground in Iowa.

“The flip side to it is if they can create some buzz from what they’re doing in the Senate. People will be paying attention to what the Senate is doing,” Peterson said. “While they don’t get the opportunity to visit a bunch of towns and do a bunch of those types of meetings, maybe they have the opportunity to get a lot of press from something” during the impeachment trial.

“The trick is it can’t look like grandstanding. If it looks like they’re trying too hard to get a lot of press, that’s not going to work as well.”

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