The Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats are steering clear of the week’s biggest news: the third indictment of former President Donald Trump.
POLITICO asked seven incumbents expected to face competitive reelections in 2024 to weigh in on the charges but heard nothing in response. Of Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), only Sinema’s team replied — with a no comment.
Their silence stands in contrast to many other Democrats — including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who quickly weighed in Tuesday with a joint statement alongside House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries calling the Jan. 6 Capitol riot “the culmination of a months-long criminal plot led by the former president.”
It’s a tricky balancing act for the seven endangered lawmakers, all of whom need to win over independents and even Republicans to win their Senate races. However popular Trump’s indictments may be among Democrats, piling on the former president isn’t a winning strategy for incumbents who need to reach beyond the party base in order to keep their jobs. Manchin, Tester and Brown are all defending seats Trump carried in 2020: West Virginia (39 points); Montana (16 points); and Ohio (8 points). President Joe Biden did carry Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, but only narrowly.
Avoiding talk of Trump’s indictment is mostly limited in the Senate to Democrats, a quirk of the 2024 campaign map that puts few of the chamber’s Republican incumbents in truly competitive races. But in the House, the 18 GOP lawmakers representing House districts won by Biden have been relatively quiet on the indictment, too — more evidence that there’s little upside for frontline members in wading into the former president’s legal morass.
The kid-gloves treatment reflects the split public opinion on Trump’s behavior: 45 percent of adults surveyed in an AP-NORC poll conducted last month — before this latest indictment — said Trump had done something illegal related to the events of Jan. 6. A higher percentage, 53 percent, concluded he had done something illegal related to the handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence.
Unlike their incumbent opponents, the GOP candidates challenging vulnerable Senate incumbents are on mostly on offense with Trump’s indictment. Not all of the Republicans running to unseat the Senate’s vulnerable Dems are weighing in on Trump, but those who have are firmly in the former president’s corner. “Joe Biden knows he can’t beat Trump at the ballot box, so he’s trying to throw him in prison,” wrote Tim Sheehy, who’s challenging Tester in Montana.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who’s seeking Manchin’s Senate seat, told POLITICO in a statement that the indictments are part of a “witch hunt and the weaponization of the federal government,” while his primary rival, Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), also lambasted “unprecedented witch hunts from corrupt left-wing Democrats” and vowed to fight “DOJ’s disgusting abuse of power.”
Sam Brown, who’s seeking the Republican Senate nomination in Nevada, told POLITICO: “It is deeply concerning that we appear to be creating a two-tiered system of justice under the current administration where the rules don’t apply to everyone evenly.”
One prominent Republican, however, remained mum as Trump was arraigned: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who predicted criminal consequences for Trump in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6, declined through his office to comment on the former president’s legal troubles.