Elizabeth Warren is dispatching top surrogates to early voting states. Amy Klobuchar plans to phone in to town hall events. And Bernie Sanders had hoped to jet out of the nation’s capital Wednesday night for a rally on an Iowa college campus before realizing it wouldn’t be possible.
The start of President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial Tuesday forced those Democratic presidential candidates, along with another, Michael Bennet, off the campaign trail in the homestretch before the Iowa caucuses and into the seats behind their wooden desks in the Senate chamber for days of lengthy proceedings.
The senators said they remained determined to balance their campaigning with their constitutional duty to serve as impeachment jurors during a historic moment in the nation’s history — a duty that will require them to be in D.C. six days each week. But their absence from Iowa in the run-up to its first-in-the-nation caucuses Feb. 3 — and potentially from New Hampshire before its primary eight days later — could put them at a disadvantage in the Democratic race.
"We have a great group of volunteers in Iowa, New Hampshire knocking on doors in very, very cold weather and we’re gonna be dependent on them,” Sanders told reporters as he headed into the Senate chamber.
With so many voters still undecided, this final stretch before the Iowa caucuses would be an important one for candidates to make their closing pitches, said Steve Drahozal, the Democratic Party chairman in Dubuque County, Iowa. But he doubted the senators would lose ground by serving as jurors.
“I think most people engaged enough with the caucuses understand that there is a job to be done,” he said.
As the trial opened with hours of debate over rules and witnesses, the senators sat solemnly at their assigned desks Tuesday like schoolchildren. They had been warned by the Senate sergeant at arms before the session began that, “All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment.” Aside from a few short breaks, they were stuck at their desks.
With cellphones banned from the chamber, the senators oscillated between taking notes and flipping through binders of material, shifting in their seats and taking the occasional sip of water. Senate pages refilled their cups or brought in folders from outside of the room as senators remained glued to their desks, moving only to fold their hands, tap a pen or conceal a late-afternoon yawn. Stopped in the Senate hallways by reporters before Tuesday’s session began, Warren avoided questions about her campaign, talking only about impeachment.
Like other candidates, Sanders began prepping supporters for his departure from the campaign trail at events over the weekend in New Hampshire.
“I would much rather be here in New Hampshire, I would much rather be in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, but I have a constitutional responsibility — that’s the oath of office that I swore — and I will do my job and be in Washington," he told a fired-up crowd of some 1,000 people at an Exeter town hall.
Warren and Sanders lined up events in Iowa and elsewhere this week with high-profile surrogates. Julián Castro, the former Obama housing secretary who endorsed Warren after dropping out of the presidential race, and his brother, Representative Joaquin Castro, were scheduled to hit the road for Warren in Iowa, while Representative Ayanna Pressley and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins were lined up to headline events in South Carolina, with others headed to New Hampshire. Sanders’ campaign said it would dispatch Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and filmmaker Michael Moore among others to Iowa.
Bennet’s campaign, which is focusing on New Hampshire, said the senator will use telephone town hall events and Facebook Live to stay in contact with voters there while sending his wife, Susan Daggett, and former Ohio Governor Dick Celeste to campaign this week.
Perhaps the candidate with the most to lose is Klobuchar. She recently started gaining momentum as her poll numbers rose, particularly in Iowa, where she has centered most of her attention.
In addition to her husband, John, and daughter Abigail, Klobuchar has deputized Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan as her top campaign surrogates while she is in Washington. Her team plans to have Klobuchar Skype into events and conduct telephone town halls across Iowa, where some of her supporters will be hosting “Hot Dish House Parties."
As the impeachment trial got underway Tuesday, nearly two dozen local legislators held press conferences for Klobuchar in Iowa and New Hampshire about their plans to keep her campaign active while she is tied up. Meanwhile, in Washington, Klobuchar sat at her desk meticulously taking notes as the trial carried on.
“This is my constitutional duty and that is how it is — we are all sitting in there,” she told reporters in the halls.