In exactly 10 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 10 months 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.

Last month

1. Kamala Harris drops out of the presidential race (December 3rd)

Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) announced on December 3rd that she would be suspending her presidential campaign. In a message addressed to her supporters, Harris stated that this was “one of the hardest decisions” of her life, but that the campaign could not continue because it struggling financially. Trump addressed Harris’ decision in a tweet, writing “Too bad. We will miss you Kamala!” Harris replied in a tweet liked more than one million times “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial.”

Before a drop in the polls and lackluster fundraising, Harris was considered a top-tier candidate in the crowded primary. Her campaign kick-off in Oakland drew more than 20,000 people, and she raised more than $2 million dollars in the day following a strong performance in the first debate. However, since the summer, she struggled to keep up both in the polls and fundraising with candidates like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Harris’ exit from the race will probably not help any one candidate in particular. A survey conducted earlier this year noted that her supporters were most likely to jump to Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, and to Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg more modestly.

The only other candidate to exit the race in the past month was Julian Castro. The former Housing and Urban Development Secretary suspended his campaign on January 2nd.

2. Donald Trump is impeached (December 18th)

Following an impeachment inquiry and hearings in the House of Representatives throughout the fall, the Judiciary Committee drafted and voted on an impeachment resolution. The resolution included two articles of impeachment: one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress. After the two articles were approved by the Judiciary Committee, they were brought to the House floor for an official vote, which happened on December 18th.

In the end, the vote for impeachment was mostly along party lines. All Republicans voted against both articles, with Democratic Representatives Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey joining them. Van Drew later joined the Republican Party. Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine voted in favour only of the first article, while Democratic primary candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voted “present.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has still not sent the articles to the Senate for a trial, and stated she would only do so once she was assured there would be a “fair trial.” Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has still not agreed to hear witnesses, the pending trial could be delayed. While impeachment itself remains deeply polarizing, a full Senate trial is favoured by the majority of Americans. Therefore, while impeachment itself might not have a major impact on the elections in November, the nature of the trial could impact Senate races in swing states, if incumbents do not follow the will of the majority of electors.

3. The House of Representatives passes the USMCA (December 19th)

The day after voting for his impeachment, House Democrats delivered Trump a major legislative victory by passing the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He followed through with months of negotiation, both with Canadian and Mexican counterparts and with domestic actors such as House and Senate Democrats and the AFL-CIO. The final version of the USMCA included changes on labour, environment, enforcement, and pharmaceutical provisions.

As opposed to the impeachment vote a day earlier, the vote to pass the USMCA was overwhelmingly bipartisan, with 385 representatives, including 193 Democrats, supporting the agreement. While it might seem contradictory that Democratic leadership in the House would choose to give Donald Trump a legislative victory right after impeaching him, it was most likely strategic. Given that impeachment is a polarizing issue, representatives in swing districts can point to this vote to maintain support from constituents. Furthermore, it served to illustrate Nancy Pelosi’s saying that Democrats could “walk and chew gum at the same time.” 

The agreement will now be sent to the Senate, where it is expected to be ratified, and then signed by Trump. Given the bipartisan nature of the USMCA, it would not be surprising both parties frequently mention it on the campaign trail later this year. 

Next Month

1. The seventh Democratic debate (January 14)

The first debate of the year, and seventh overall of the Democratic primaries, will take place in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 14th. The debate, co-hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register, will be the last chance for candidates to make their case to Iowa voters on a debate stage before the caucuses two weeks later. 

To qualify for the debate, the candidates needed to have at least 225,000 individual donors, and meet a polling requirement (5 per cent in four national polls or 7 per cent in two early state polls). So far, five candidates have qualified: former Vice-President Joe Biden, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senators Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Senator Cory Booker and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have both met the donor requirement but are missing polls to qualify, while Michael Bloomberg has met the polling requirement only.  They have until January 10th to qualify. 

Given that three out of the five qualified candidates currently sit in the Senate and will serve as jurors in the impeachment trial, the Democratic National Committee has already stated that the debate would be rescheduled if it conflicted with the trial.

2. The Iowa Caucuses (February 3rd)

After months of campaigning, the first caucus of the Democratic primaries has finally arrived. On February 3rd, Iowans will gather in more than 1,000 precincts to decide how to allocate the state’s delegates for the National Democratic Convention. 

A caucus is a lengthier process than an elected primary. Once each caucus has elected a chair and secretary, caucusgoers will gather around the room in clusters based on the candidate they support. Then, if a candidate does not reach the viability threshold of 15 per cent, its supporters will have to choose another candidate. Once all caucusgoers have gathered in a cluster for a “viable” candidate, the numbers will be tallied and the delegates allocated to each candidate appropriately. 

While the demographics of Iowa do not mirror those of the United States and especially the Democratic Party, the state’s caucuses are extremely important for candidates since they represent the first time primary voters will get their voices heard. A strong or underwhelming performance in Iowa can influence the national media narrative on the different candidates, especially those who draw most of their support from white voters. 

Two of the latest polls in the state show Pete Buttigieg a few percentage points ahead of Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren, who all meet the viability threshold. However, given the nature of the caucus system, it is important for candidates to also be voters’ second and third choices. Therefore, since no candidate has an immense lead, the race is still wide open. 

Edited by Catharina O’ Donnell.

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