Democratic base extols impeachment inquiry, but wary of its risks originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
The uncertain terrain of an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump only 13 months out from the 2020 elections injects a new series of challenges into the presidential contest. But on the campaign trail, Democratic contenders are finding steady ground as their core base of supporters laud party leaders for moving forward with a formal investigation, despite its political risks.
In interviews at various Democratic campaign stops over the weekend across the early nominating states, attendees embraced impeachment proceedings -- a move that often divides a partisan electorate along party lines in early polling.
'No one's above the law'
In New Hampshire, some voters signaled an intense urgency for action, suggesting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry should have been more expeditious.
"No one's above the law, especially not the president of the United States, and the fact that he gets away with all these things and then it was just put off, put off, put off," Angelica Castro Andrade, a resident of Manchester, New Hampshire, told ABC News at a town hall hosted by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Hollis. "I think it's good that it's happening. ... But it definitely should have happened sooner."
Castro Andrade wasn't the only potential voter to question the timeline.
"I felt all along that this president has made a mockery out of our Oval Office and I think this process should’ve started a long time ago," Rigo Tostado, a supporter of former Vice President Joe Biden from Colorado, said in Las Vegas. "I know that there is a process they have to go through and go through the evidence and bring the facts upfront, but I do believe this was coming."
At the crux of the inquiry is a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to work with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, according to a memo released by the White House.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe Trump's encouragement of a foreign leader to investigate a political rival and his family is a serious problem, but only 17% said they were surprised by the president's actions, according to a ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday.
Recent polling also shows a growing shift in support of impeachment. A new Quinnipiac poll, released Monday, found that voters are evenly split on impeaching and removing Trump -- 47% approving and 47% disapproving -- closing a 20-point gap from a week ago when voters said the president should not be impeached.
Democrats navigate new territory on the trail
While some strategists may say it's too early to tell if this will be a campaign issue or affect the 2020 presidential race, one Democratic strategist cast Pelosi’s decision as an "opportunistic" moment.
"Impeachment was a pretty divisive issue, even amongst the Democratic caucus," the strategist told ABC News. "[But] because we waited, and were deliberate and didn't rush to judgment, the signal that cast for people is this wasn't an opportunistic move. This was something that people came to reluctantly. This is a question of national security."
Since the onset of the 2020 race, the Democratic candidates have labored to push the presidential campaign beyond the political drama consuming Washington. But now, as the party braces for a protracted battle with the White House, some in the field spent the weekend more focused on the bread-and-butter issues at the core of their stump speeches, and framing the impeachment investigation as not partisan.
"We have a lot of things to talk about, and I’ve certainly talked about impeachment," Warren told reporters in South Carolina Saturday. "There are a whole lot of issues that people want to talk about out here. They want to talk about health care. They want to talk about education. They want to talk about foreign policy. This the chance to hear from them about what they want to talk about, and that’s what I’ve been doing, and I’m glad to have a chance to do it."
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has tried to keep the main focus on several issues in his campaign stops, as well.
"Yes, what’s going on in Washington is grave, it is important, but in my view, it’s also not something that ought to be about partisan politics," Buttigieg said in Sacramento, California, Sunday. "We’re also going to undertake a campaign that’s focused on everyday lives and how people’s everyday lives will be better under my presidency than under the current president. We can and must do those two things at once."
Even Biden, who sits at the center of the president’s attacks, continued to convey the central message of his campaign -- his electability in a matchup against Trump -- despite his candidacy potentially being made more complicated by the investigation.
"It's not about me, we’ll overcome this," Biden said at a campaign event in Las Vegas Friday. "My family will handle this. But I'm worried about all the families, and all the lives that are at stake in this election because of his failure as a president in terms of the substance of what needs to be done. He wants to hijack this election so that we're not going to focus on your lives."
"I’m going to make sure that Donald Trump loses and you win," he added.
Voters on the risks ahead
Beyond their approval of opening impeachment proceedings, attendees at the campaign stops appeared to also be more trained on defeating Trump in 2020. But between relief, wariness and uncertainty, some raised their concerns with the prospect of the impeachment investigation consuming the 2020 race -- and energizing the president’s staunchly loyal base.
"I'm for impeachment but here's the thing, Democrats have to really be careful," said Casey McCoure, an entrepreneur, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. "One wrong move and it could be all over and the Republicans could rally against us and rally around him some more."
Some potential voters have also questioned the repercussions of the timing.
"I agree that he should be impeached," Alissandra Rodriguez-Murray, from Manchester, said. "But I think this is bad timing. I think it should have been done way before because now this is so close to the election and I feel like it's just going to martyr him for his followers."
Janie Billings, who was not at a campaign event, but in Las Vegas, warned of the dangers of impeachment on an already divided country, despite being moved to support the inquiry after reports of Trump’s actions tied to Ukraine.
"It’s just tearing the country apart," the Illinois native told ABC News. "It was torn apart before, but it’s just going to make it worse because there is such a divide amongst the people. They are either for him or against him."
In a similar outlook, Bonnieta Kraft, a resident of Keene, New Hampshire, said that while Pelosi's decision is "good news" she doesn't know "what will come of it" -- underscoring the unpredictability this new dynamic brings to an already unsettled race.
"I think there'll be a lot of pushback," she said. "[But] my feeling was that they wouldn't be taking this step if they really didn't feel like they can move forward with it."
ABC News' Johnny Verhovek contributed to this report.