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How senators stuck in D.C. for impeachment are keeping their 2020 campaigns going

Impeachment trial legal analysis

Nashua, New Hampshire – Seven inches of fresh snow and sub-freezing temperatures couldn't stop voter Sharon Giglio from trekking to a corner café to attend "office hours" with Amy Klobuchar's campaign, even without the presence of the presidential candidate. 

With the Iowa caucuses twelve days away and New Hampshire's primary soon after, the 2020 presidential candidates who are sitting senators have decamped to Washington. But while they're stuck serving in silence as jurors in the impeachment trial of President Trump, these senators have launched contingency plans, sending surrogates across early-voting states to talk them up with voters.

Klobuchar surrogate
New Hampshire State Senator does surrogate duty for Amy Klobuchar, who is in Washington for President Trump's Senate impeachment trial, January 2020. CBS News / Nicole Sganga

In New Hampshire, Klobuchar's team has booked surrogate meet-ups through the first week of February, inviting voters to sit down with a local lawmaker backing the Minnesota lawmaker. New Hampshire Executive Councilor Deborah Pignatelli and former Attorney General Joe Foster waved Giglio over to a table stocked with campaign literature, green "Amy for America" stickers and stacks of policy bullet points.

"The senators need to be in Washington right now," Giglio said. "I think I would have been disappointed if she had chosen to be on the campaign trail instead." The grandmother of two handed her personal cell to Pignatelli who promised to call her personally the next time the Minnesota lawmaker makes a swing through New Hampshire.

Perhaps the biggest star hitting the early-state trail is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who's slated to hold campaign events for Sanders at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University on Friday and Saturday. Sanders is still expected to make an appearance at the Saturday night rally depending on the impeachment schedule. Under the impeachment rules, senators will also be participating in the trial on Saturdays.

Other Sanders surrogates, including filmmaker Michael Moore, will be making the rounds of college campuses around Iowa as the Sanders campaign tries to drum up enthusiasm among young voters in the weeks leading up to the caucuses. Popular indie bands "Vampire Weekend" and "Bon Iver" will host free "caucus concerts" in the weekend leading up to the first-in-the-nation contest, with VIP sections reserved for top campaign canvassers. Sanders led the latest Des Moines Register/CNN poll with 36% of people under 35 saying he was their top choice.

"We need your help now more than ever," Sanders said told supporters in Des Moines Monday. "I'm going to be stuck in Washington for God knows how long."

While Sanders rallied voters in three of the four early states this past holiday weekend, his supporters worried about the time away from the trail. 

"It's bad for Bernie. It's bad for Elizabeth Warren — to be taking them off the campaign trail," Logan Peterson of Lancaster, New Hampshire, told CBS News. "It's a free pass for Joe Biden. He doesn't have to take time off." Peterson shook his head. "This couldn't have happened at a worse time."

Sanders remains optimistic, telling reporters in Conway, New Hampshire, "As we speak, people are knocking on doors, making the phone calls. And they're going to have to do what I can't."

Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are roadtripping to New Hampshire Thursday, hosting movie and ice cream socials on college campuses. On Saturday, Sanders' wife, Jane Sanders, is going to Las Vegas to stump for him. Sanders surrogate Philip Agnew of Black Lives Matter toured South Carolina's barber shops this week.

Warren has enlisted a former Democratic presidential candidate, Julián Castro, for a stint in Iowa this week to campaign for Warren before heading west to Nevada. He'll be joined in Iowa by his brother, Congressman Joaquin Castro, who also recently endorsed Warren for president. The two will tour western parts of the state, where Warren has spent little time campaigning since the summer.

Warren supporter, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney shook hands with business owners in Concord, New Hampshire, this weekend, popping into businesses adjacent to the State Capitol.

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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney drops by businesses on Elizabeth Warren's behalf in Concord, New Hampshire, while Warren is in Washington for the Senate impeachment trial. CBS News / Nicole Sganga

It's far from a sure bet that surrogates will have much, if any, impact on the race. Shop owner Michael St. Germain, who has already met a dozen candidates, shrugged off Kenney's visit. "I think it just shows a broad spectrum of the kinds of people in favor of someone," St. Germain, who has already committed to voting for Warren, conceded. "But does it matter to me as a voter? Probably not."

Later this week, Congressmen Joe Kennedy, Jim McGovern and Andy Levin will host canvass kick-offs up and down New Hampshire, joined by Elizabeth Warren's husband Bruce Mann. Actress and activist Ashley Judd makes her 2020 campaign debut Friday, hosting campaign meet-and-greets in Dartmouth, Lebanon and Nashua.

Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez's fellow "squad" member, Ayanna Pressley plans to swing through South Carolina Thursday for Warren. On Sunday — the senators' day off from trial duty — Warren is scheduled to appear at a town hall event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Netflix's "Queer Eye" host Jonathan Van Ness, who has endorsed her.

Michael Bennet's campaign has sworn off fundraising during the hours the impeachment trial is in session. "Michael will also use Telephone Town Halls and Facebook Lives to stay in contact with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire throughout the trial," campaign spokesperson Shannon Beckham released in a statement. The senator's wife, Susan Daggett, will head to Exeter, New Hampshire, Thursday to campaign, along with former Ohio Governor Dick Celeste.

As Amy Klobuchar tries to break into the top tier of candidates, her campaign will also be deploying surrogates to Iowa, including her husband and daughter, at hot dish parties around the state. (A hot dish is Minnesota-speak for a casserole.) State legislators touting "Amy for America" signs held group press conferences at the state capitols in Iowa and New Hampshire Monday, doubling down on their support.

Klobuchar has been touting her extensive support from local leaders in Iowa and New Hampshire, even as other campaigns are bringing more nationally recognizable names into the state.

"I have the mayor of Fertile, Iowa. She's a pop culture icon," Klobuchar joked with reporters earlier this month when asked how she'll compete with more high powered surrogates for other campaigns. She also regularly encourages Iowans to call friends and family in Minnesota to get their opinions on Klobuchar. 

LaCrai Mitchell, Alex Tin and Musadiq Bidar contributed to this report.

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