A year before 2020 election, a divided and 'angry' US

U.S. President Donald Trump. Reuters photo

America on Sunday kicked off the one-year countdown to Election Day 2020, with President Donald Trump betting an "angry" Republican surge can deliver him a second term, and Democratic candidates battling for a chance to win back the White House.

The building clash -- dramatically fueled by the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry into Trump -- virtually guarantees another year of division in a nation grown weary of such drama.

Polls suggest the country couldn't be much more divided.

The latest projection from a University of Virginia political science team points to a dead-even 2020 race, with each party leading in states totaling 248 electoral college votes -- short of the 270 needed for election.

The division is reflected in the House, where the vote Thursday to formalize the impeachment inquiry passed almost entirely on party lines -- more partisan than any of the three previous impeachment votes in US history.

But while every Republican in the House voted against the inquiry, Trump may be losing support in the broader public. A new poll shows half of Americans now believe he should be impeached and removed.

As the inquiry proceeds, Trump has lashed out in increasingly crude and personal terms.

In a speech Friday in Tupelo, Mississippi, he called Democratic leaders "mentally violent" and said former vice president Joe Biden, a top Democratic candidate, was getting "slower and slower."

Trump has even retweeted one pastor's warning that impeachment could "cause a civil war."

The president meanwhile is continuing to leverage public events and the raucous political rallies he thrives on to dominate public debate.

Tweeting Saturday after attending a mixed-martial arts event in New York, he said the charged atmosphere there -- he was met with both boos and applause -- was "a little bit like walking into a Trump Rally."

Amid all the furor, Democratic candidates have struggled for a share of the spotlight.

"We are one year out from the most important election of our lifetime," said California Senator Kamala Harris, even as she announced the layoff of some campaign staff amid sagging poll results.

Anxiety has grown among some Democrats that a clear, strong challenger with mainstream appeal has yet to emerge from their huge field.

Trump's unproven allegations that Biden and his son were somehow tainted by corruption in Ukraine has weighed on the former vice president.

Still leading in most national polls, Biden has slipped to fourth place in the early and crucial Iowa caucus, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released Friday.

That survey put Senator Elizabeth Warren in the lead, at 22 percent, followed by Senator Bernie Sanders, at 19 percent, with a surging Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, at 18 percent, one point ahead of Biden.

But many Democrats fear Warren and Sanders are too liberal to win nationwide and that Buttigieg might not be able to expand his support beyond a core of white, liberal voters.

Buttigieg's own focus groups found that his being openly gay is a barrier with some black voters, The New York Times reported, a finding the newspaper's polling supported.

In all the political din, Democrats' messages on health care, gun control, and immigration reform are sometimes lost.

"I do think that, in the short run, impeachment will dominate Washington and political news reporting" and "will hurt candidates trying to crash into the top tier," said Chris Arterton, an emeritus professor of political science at The George Washington University.

 House committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry have heard from a stream of witnesses expressing concern over Trump's request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son.

Democrats hope that when they begin releasing transcripts of their closed-door interviews and question key witnesses in open session the public will come along.

Indeed, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 49 percent of Americans now believe Trump should be both impeached and removed from office, up 6 points in three weeks.

Yet in his combative appearance in Mississippi, Trump insisted that the talk of impeachment could help him.

"I tell you, the Republicans are really strong," he said, touting the emergence of "an angry majority."

For now, analysts continue to predict that even if the House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-dominated Senate will acquit him.

Arterton said he believes Democrats are determined to deal with impeachment quickly.

"By February, when the presidential campaign really starts ... I believe that the 2020 campaign will come to dominate the news," he said.

In the meantime, Democrats like Buttigieg or Harris "won't get the news coverage they might otherwise be able to garner."

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