There are few votes as historic—or as potentially career-ending—for a member of Congress as the one just cast to impeach a president. It’s being compared to Democrats losing the House and Senate in 1994 after voting for Clinton’s tax increase and in 2010 for supporting Obamacare.
Freshmen Democrats in districts previously held by Republicans face the greatest risk. This group, dubbed “frontline” Democrats, many of them women, voted to hold President Trump accountable on both articles of impeachment knowing full well the possible consequences.
“The political implications of impeachment for Democrats in Trump districts was unclear, but they voted yes because they knew it was the right thing to do, and have to live with themselves for the rest of their lives,” says David de la Fuente with Third Way, a moderate Democratic group that at The Daily Beast’s request identified 10 freshmen Democrats with the most to lose in casting their vote for impeachment.
Three of these freshmen lawmakers—Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia—were among a group of seven newly elected Democrats with national security credentials who stepped forward in September to support impeachment after it became public that Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine in exchange for dirt on a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
These are the kind of members Speaker Pelosi had been protecting for months as she held off on impeachment. When they declared as a group in a Washington Post opinion piece that national security is at stake, and they now favored an impeachment inquiry, the die was cast for Pelosi to proceed.
As impeachment day approached, Slotkin immersed herself in the House Intelligence Committee report on Trump’s activities. A former CIA analyst, she told her constituents in a raucous town meeting in Holly, Michigan, days before the vote, “Whether you agree with me or not, I have attempted to be transparent, to be communicative and to let you know what I was doing.”
Amidst loud boos and strong cheers, she declared the impeachment vote “an issue of principle. I felt it in my bones.”
Here are the 10:
1. Slotkin won her Michigan district by 3.83 percentage points in 2018; Trump won it by 7 points in 2016. Cook Political Report rates the district a tossup for 2020.
2. Spanberger won her Virginia district by 1.94 percentage points. Trump won it by 6 points, and Mitt Romney, the previous GOP nominee, won it in 2012 by 12 points. Cook Political Report rates it as leaning Democratic.
3. Luria, also from Virginia, won by 2.24 points. Trump won her district by 3 points. Cook rates it a tossup.
4. Lucy McBath won Newt Gingrich’s old district in Georgia by 1.03 points. She was the first Democrat to win the suburban Atlanta district in more than 20 years. Trump won the district in 2016 by just 1 point. Romney won it by 24 points in 2012. Cook rates the district a tossup.
5. Haley Stevens won her Michigan district by 6.67 points. Trump won it by 4 points. Once part of the “blue wall” for Democrats, Michigan is one of the battleground states that gave Trump his electoral win in 2016.
6. Xochitl Torres Small won her New Mexico district by 1.87 percentage points. Trump won the district by 10 points. Cook rates it a tossup. Torres Small is already under pressure from Republicans in the conservative district for favoring some gun safety legislation.
7. Anthony Brindisi won his upstate New York district by 1.78 points. Trump won the district by 15 points. Cook rates it a tossup. "The safe thing to do in a district like mine is to vote against the articles of impeachment. But I wasn't elected to do what is politically safe, I was elected to do what I think is right," Rep. Brindisi told ABC News.
8. Kendra Horn won her Oklahoma district by 1.40 percentage points. Trump won the district by 13 points in 2016. Her hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman, headlined its story, “Horn’s impeachment vote could be costly.” Cook rates it a tossup.
9. Joe Cunningham won his South Carolina seat by 1.39 points. Trump won the district by 12 points. Romney won it by 18 points. Cook rates it a tossup.
10. Ben McAdams won by 0.26 percentage points in Utah. Trump won his district by 7 points. Romney won it by 38 points. Mormons are not fond of Trump, but he still won the district comfortably. It’s also rated a tossup by the Cook Political Report.
Dave Wasserman, who rates House districts for Cook, told The Daily Beast the Democrats facing the biggest risk of a backlash are in districts where Trump was above 50 percent in 2016. There is plenty of crossover with Third Way’s candidates (Slotkin in Michigan, Torres Small in New Mexico, Brindisi in New York, Horn in Oklahoma and Spanberger in Virginia).
Wasserman’s list of a dozen members included Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who has served a conservative district since 1991 and is one of only two Democrats voting against impeachment. “The others are in serious trouble over their vote,” he says. Even so, he notes that Democrats could lose some or even most of the seats on his list and still have a pretty secure hold on the House.
Because of a record number of GOP retirements and a redistricting plan in North Carolina that reduces the GOP’s unfair advantage, Republicans would have to win 24 seats to net the 18 they need to take back the majority.
Asked if the vulnerable Democrats who voted for impeachment are profiles in courage, Wasserman replied, “Not after what happened to (New Jersey Representative Jeff) Van Drew in my book. A vote for impeachment is also the correct political decision. If they would have voted against impeachment, they would have been worse off. They’re in a no-win predicament.”
After Van Drew voted against impeachment and said he would be switching parties, much of his staff quit in protest, and his constituents were up in arms—on both sides. “Van Drew screwed up,” says Third Way analyst de la Fuente. “Democratic primary voters in Trump districts know their representatives can’t be ideological purists, but a no vote on impeachment was a bridge too far. Impeachment became a primary death trap.”
Jim Kessler, a co-founder of Third Way, paraphrases President Obama who recently defined political courage as taking a stand on one issue for which you could lose your election. “Saving the country seems like a pretty good choice,” Kessler says.
At the same time, he concedes, “This might play out as a whole lot of nothing for these members. Unlike other votes, it’s not a pocketbook issue. It’s not deciding about someone’s health care or taxes. And they have a good explanation that they’re doing their duty—reluctantly.”