In exactly 12 months, Americans will head to the polls for the 2020 election. Donald Trump will be fighting for reelection against the Democratic presidential nominee, while all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate will also be contested. Furthermore, elections will also be held for the governorships of 11 states and two territories, a majority of state legislatures, and multiple municipalities.
With just one year until election day, MJPS has rounded up some of the most important election-shaping events from last month, along with a preview of what to expect in American politics over the next month.
1. Rep. Elijah Cummings dies (October 17th)
Representative Elijah Cummings, who had represented Maryland in Congress since 1996, passed away at age 68. Cummings was the chair of the powerful Oversight Committee, one of the House committees leading the impeachment inquiry. After his death, he became the first African-American to lie in state at the Capitol. Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all delivered eulogies at his funeral in his hometown of Baltimore.
Following Cummings’ death, Representative Carolyn Maloney took over his duties as chair of the Oversight Committee on a temporary basis, as she was the most senior Democrat on the panel. Nancy Pelosi recently announced that the Steering and Policy Committee will meet on November 12th to consider nominations for the new Oversight chair. Interested lawmakers include Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, Gerry Connolly of Virginia, and Jackie Spier of California.
Cummings’ death, combined with the resignations of Republicans Chris Collins (NY-27) and Sean Duffy (WI-7), and Democrat Katie Hill (CA-25), creates a fourth vacancy in the House of Representatives. Unlike Senate vacancies, House vacancies can only be filled through special elections called by the state’s governor. As of now, no such special election has been called.
2. Tim Ryan (October 24th) and Beto O’ Rourke (November 1st) drop out of the Democratic primaries
Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio dropped out of the Democratic primaries after an underwhelming campaign, ending his long-shot bid at becoming the 46th U.S. President. Ryan, who entered the race touting his abilities to reach out to the working-class, was never able to gain traction in the crowded Democratic field. As his fundraising and polling numbers were too low, he failed to qualify for the September and October debates.
While Ryan’s chances of winning the nomination had been small from the day he entered the race, the same cannot be said of Beto O’Rourke, the other candidate to drop out in the last month. O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, gained nationwide attention during his Senate race against Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterms. He was seen as an early top-tier candidate, even gracing the cover of Vanity Fair soon before he officially entered the race. Despite an impressive $6 million the day he began his campaign, his poll numbers soon started to drop, and he failed to qualify for the November debate.
Ryan and O’Rourke are not the only candidates who have struggled to make a lasting impression on Democratic primary voters. Others have already dropped out of the race, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Even more high-profile candidates, like Julian Castro and Cory Booker, have had to ask voters for donations to help them stay in the race longer. While 17 candidates are still competing for the nomination, only a few have a realistic chance of making it all the way to the convention next summer.
3. Alabama’s strict abortion ban is blocked by the courts (October 29th)
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the Human Life Protection Act, an Alabama law strictly restricting abortion, that was supposed to take effect on November 15th. The law, which was passed in May, would ban all abortions in the state except if the pregnancy presents a serious health risk for the woman, with no exceptions for rape and incest. It would also make performing an abortion a felony, punishable with up to 99 years in prison.
In her ruling, the judge stated that the law violated the U.S. Constitution, which was expected by the Alabama Republicans who passed the bill. Empowered by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court, Republican state legislatures have been passing unconstitutional abortion bills. They hope that, soon, a legal challenge to an abortion bill will reach the Supreme Court and lead to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling legalizing abortion in the United States, being overturned. The abortion debate, especially with legal fights like this on a state level, is certain to be a major issue during the general election next year.
4. The House of Representatives votes to formalize the impeachment inquiry (October 31st)
On October 31st, the House of Representatives voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The vote was mostly along party lines; all Democrats except for two were joined by Independent congressman Justin Amash to vote in favour of the impeachment inquiry, while all Republicans voted against. Shortly after the vote, Trump voiced his disapproval by tweeting: “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”
While this vote was just held on October 31st, the impeachment inquiry has been going on for over a month now, after it was first announced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on September 25th. The inquiry was launched after a whistleblower complaint alleged that President Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for military aid.
Many witnesses have already been interviewed in private by a few select House committees. These include William Taylor, a career diplomat who currently serves as the U.S. chargé d’affaires for Ukraine, and Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s leading expert on Ukraine and the first White House official to testify. Both men have stated they can testify in public once the inquiry reaches that stage. Taylor was attacked by Trump on Twitter as a “Never Trumper.” However, despite the president’s attacks on the impeachment inquiry, a recent poll found that a majority of Americans support the process. Whether impeachment politically benefits Republicans or Democrats in the upcoming election remains to be seen.
1. Gubernatorial and state legislative elections in Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Virginia and New Jersey (November 5th)
On November 5th, voters in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will head to the polls for an off-year election. There are many interesting races to watch, that could offer a preview of the 2020 elections.
In Kentucky, incumbent governor Matt Bevin, a Republican, is facing Democrat Andy Beshear, the state’s Attorney General. While Kentucky is traditionally a red state, Bevin is deeply unpopular among voters, and polls have both candidates in a tight race. Trump, who won the state by 30 per cent in 2016, will be appearing at a rally for Bevin the night before the election. If Beshear were to unseat Bevin, it would be a warning sign for the GOP, especially since many parallels can be made with the 2020 Kentucky Senate race. Democrat Amy McGrath is challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has the lowest approval rating of any senator.
The Virginia state legislative elections could offer a preview of many congressional races in 2020. During the 2018 midterms, Democrats flipped three seats in suburban Virginia to help the party take back the House of Representatives. Now, state Democrats are also hoping to use suburban seats to take control of the legislature. The Democrats are currently leading generic ballot polls and have outraised Republicans for the past two years. If Democrats fare well in the state, and especially in the suburbs, on November 5th, it would be a good indication that they are on their way to keeping control of the House of Representatives in 2020.
2. The fifth Democratic primary debate (November 20th)
The fifth debate of the Democratic primaries, hosted by MSNBC and the Washington Post, could be the smallest so far. As of November 3rd, only nine candidates have qualified: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer.
In order to make it to the debate stage in Atlanta, candidates need to have at least 165,000 individual donors, and meet one of two polling requirements (four national polls with at least 3 per cent of support, or two early-state polls with 5 per cent of support). Julian Castro and Tulsi Gabbard have both only met the donor requirement, meaning that they will not take part in the debate unless they also reach the polling requirement before the November 13th deadline.
This could be the last chance for some of these candidates to make an impression during the debates. Given the harder cutoff for the December debate, it is unlikely that all nine candidates, or those who will not be on stage in November, will qualify. As of now, only Biden, Sanders, and Warren have qualified. With the Iowa caucuses coming up soon, this is make or break time for the majority of the contenders.
Edited by Rebecka Eriksdotter-Pieder.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Image by Nico Paix via Wikimedia Commons