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Campaigns look to capitalize on first impeachment hearings

Both parties used different strategies on the campaign trail

Campaigns sought to capitalize on national attention on Wednesday’s impeachment hearing that featured testimony by senior diplomats William Taylor, center, and George Kent, right. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Campaigns sought to capitalize on national attention on Wednesday’s impeachment hearing that featured testimony by senior diplomats William Taylor, center, and George Kent, right. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Loath to waste a national spotlight, campaigns on Wednesday sought to take advantage of the first public impeachment hearing in two decades, though groups pushing Republicans seemed more willing to urge angry voters to contribute as the hearing unfolded while Democrats were more low-key.

War rooms for the Democratic and Republican national committees each issued dueling fact checks as the House Intelligence panel began public hearings into whether President Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense by withholding military aid while pressing Ukraine to investigate a chief political opponent. But the similarities between the parties’ approaches stopped there.

Republicans, convinced their base will be fired up to defend the president from what he’s branded a witch hunt and attempted coup, went on the attack while arguing that impeachment is an unnecessary distraction that is paralyzing Congress. 

Democratic leaders have stressed the solemnity of the process, and groups supporting the party and its candidates were somewhat quiet as Wednesday’s hearing unfolded. Those on the Democratic side who were active made a similar case, casting the inquiry as one necessary to defend democracy and portraying Republicans opposed to it as putting party ahead of country.

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[Hill staffers in both parties overwhelmingly believe Trump headed for impeachment]

Republicans rally the base

Republicans appeared more eager to use the start of hearings to fundraise and build email lists.

Trump’s campaign sent a fundraising pitch via email and text message, telling supporters it had a goal of raising $3 million in the next 24 hours.

“It’s time to make a statement. I want to do something so EPIC that even the FAKE NEWS media won’t be able to ignore us while these baseless Witch Hunt Trials go on,” the president wrote in the fundraising email.

The Republican National Committee ran full-page newspaper ads in 15 states Wednesday, targeting Democratic members of Congress as part of its “Stop the Madness” campaign. The ad directed at Maine Democratic Rep. Jared Golden read, “WANTED: Member of Congress who actually works for Maine.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee also sent a fundraising email with this message: “If you want to support President Trump, do not wait. NOW is the time to act.”

The NRCC, which is working to retake the House, is running ads on Facebook targeting a handful of vulnerable Democrats and encouraging those who see the ad to sign a petition to stop impeachment, according to the platform’s ad library. Petitions like that are used to build lists of supporters, which can then be used to send out future appeals.

American Action Network, an advocacy group aligned with House GOP leadership, announced a $2 million digital campaign Wednesday relating to impeachment.

The static ads on websites are targeting 30 House Democrats in districts Trump won in 2016, calling on them to “stop the partisan charade.” The group also launched positive ads in seven districts held by vulnerable Republicans, stating the GOP lawmakers are “focused on issues that matter: securing better trade deals and creating good jobs.”

Democrats lay low

Democrats were not as active as their Republican counterparts in launching fundraising pitches and ads during the hearing. 

A search of Facebook’s ad library for “impeachment” turned up ads from the NRCC but not the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC did send out a handful of press releases Wednesday highlighting impeachment-related criticism of some Republicans in competitive races.

Some Democrats did alert their email lists to the hearing after it was over. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent an email to supporters early Wednesday evening saying, “We need to hear from 50,000 Democrats by midnight: Should Donald Trump be held accountable?” The email linked to a survey about the administration.

Former Vice President Joe Biden also sent a fundraising email Wednesday evening with the subject line “impeachment hearing.” Biden has been pulled into the impeachment probe because Trump urged Ukraine to investigate him and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Biden’s fundraising email urged supporters to donate to the campaign “to help me defeat [Trump’s] lies and then go on to defeat him at the ballot box.”

But the leader of one Democratic super PAC also pointed out that actively campaigning on impeachment may not be necessary.

“Impeachment is going to be on television a lot. How much more are we going to add by running a half-million dollars of ads in states talking about impeachment right now? Probably not a lot,” Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said at a briefing with reporters Wednesday morning. Cecil said the group’s polling in battleground states shows a majority or a plurality of voters support impeachment.

“We should hold fire, let that process work its way through, and then make an assessment about whether we should advertise later on impeachment,” he said.

Stressing military service

Democrats who did engage politically around the hearing tended to stress a sense of duty, highlighting military and national security experience.

Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, whose district backed Trump by 6 points in 2016, sent a fundraising email Tuesday night with the subject line “public hearings.” A former CIA officer, Spanberger wrote that she is focused on “upholding the oath, that I, too, swore to protect and defend the Constitution.”

Fellow Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran, released a campaign video Tuesday titled “Oath,” featuring footage of her reciting the oath of office and highlighting news coverage of her support for the impeachment inquiry. Trump carried her district by 3 points. 

Luria’s campaign also sent out a fundraising email late Wednesday afternoon, touting her support for impeachment and saying she needs help since the NRCC is “doubling down” on its attacks.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Spanberger and Luria’s races Tilt Democratic.

One bipartisan group backing impeachment went on offense, targeting 14 House Republicans in competitive races with a similar message.

Defending American Democracy, a veterans group that is part of a bipartisan coalition of pro-impeachment outfits, launched what it said was  a “seven-figure” television ad buy late last week. The ads feature veterans accusing the GOP lawmakers of “putting politics over country.”

Stephanie Akin, Simone Pathé, Niels Lesniewski and John T. Bennett contributed to this report. 

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