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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Impeachment tests Democrats in swing congressional districts 

Perry Gershon town hall at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community

Perry Gershon town hall at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library on Tuesday. Photo Credit: amNewYork/Mark Chiusano

For a glimpse at the murky effects of an impeachment inquiry for Democrats, start with Democrat Perry Gershon’s town hall in Shirley Tuesday night.

Gershon, who is seeking a rematch with Rep. Lee Zeldin in 2020, already had released a statement noting his support for an impeachment inquiry given whistleblower allegations that President Donald Trump tried to muscle his counterpart in Ukraine to probe a political rival. But at the event, he got the question directly: Would he vote to impeach the president?

Gershon answered carefully. "I don’t know enough today to say I would impeach him,” the East Hampton resident said. “I support an impeachment inquiry into the president of the United States, and that's what [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi came out for a couple of hours ago.”

He tried to move on, but some members of the largely respectful crowd of about 50 weren’t having it.

One attendee said impeachment tends to “destroy our country,” and "whether you voted for the president or not, he was elected to govern for four years."

Others in the audience felt differently, but among the rationales offered against impeachment was the prospect that the GOP-led Senate would not vote for a conviction.

Eventually, Gershon closed down the conversation by saying he is focused on Long Island and his 2020 run.

Gershon was speaking at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, which is in Shirley, Zeldin’s hometown and a center of his political support. And Shirley is in one of those battleground districts that tends to flip between red and blue, and where there are more registered Republicans than Democrats.

In districts like it, Democrats face hard choices on impeachment. On Staten Island, New York City’s Trumpiest borough, Rep. Max Rose has kept support for impeachment at arm’s length. Upstate, in another district that went red to blue in 2018, Rep. Anthony Brindisi has done the same.

Even as a majority of the caucus has tiptoed toward impeachment, other moderates and more  politically cautious members have hedged that they’re in support so long as the allegations are borne out.

Despite the fervor of many Democrats hungry for action, the moderates are likely envisioning the kinds of voters that Gershon spoke to on Tuesday. These voters tend to see themselves as down the middle, people who have a visceral reaction against perceived nastiness or political extremes. One man in the basement auditorium put it visually when he stood up and told Gershon that personally he was anti-Trump — he extended one arm to one side — but he was also anti-Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “Because she’s over here,” he said.

Then you have the unsurprising anti-impeachment talking points from Trump’s usual defenders — including Zeldin, who took to Twitter and cable over the past few days to talk about Democratic overreach.

To make matters even more complicated for Democrats trying to chart a path, this story is moving rapidly and minds can be changed. By Wednesday, those town hall attendees were able to examine a White House summary of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian leader, including Trump saying, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”  

Add Trump's Wednesday news conference, when you might have thought he’d make a cogent defense for himself, but instead just rambled. Seriously rambled. More accurate might be to say the president two horses how did the Mets do yesterday merry Christmas. 

For those looking to follow a playbook based on previous impeachment pushes, the best playbook might be that the old ones are out the window.

Mark Chiusano is a member of Newsday's editorial board.

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