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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Do Convention-Skipping Lawmakers Matter? Yes.



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So, what are we to make of the news that West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, Montana senator Jon Tester, Utah congressman Jim Matheson, West Virginia governor Ray Tomblin, West Virginia congressman Nick Rahall, New York congressmen Kathy Hochul and Bill Owens, Pennsylvania congressman Mark Critz, and now Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri will not attend the Democratic convention in Charlotte this summer?

On “Hannity” last night, the lovely Democratic consultant Julie Roginsky argued that this was just candidates following good advice, and that national conventions are a waste of time for candidates.

She’s right, up to a point. If you’re in a tough race, the opportunity cost of a week spent at your party’s convention may not be worth skipping pancake breakfasts, door-knocking, local media appearances, etc.

And this morning, the DCCC is telling its own candidates to stay away from the convention:

The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention in September.

“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.

Israel emphasized that Democratic President Barack Obama’s poll ratings — which have hovered around 50 percent — have little to do with his stance.

“I don’t care if the president was at 122 percent favorability right now,” he said. “I think (candidates) should be in their districts,” rather than spend time at the convention, which will be in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 3-6.

Indeed, a few Democrats skipped the Democrats’ convention in Denver four years ago: Then-House candidate Dina Titus of Nevada, Hillary-backing Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski, Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia, and Reps. Gene Taylor and Travis Childers of Mississippi. Sen. Dianne Feinstein stayed home because of a broken ankle.

But the vast majority of Democrats saw no political risk in attending the convention in Denver four years ago, or Boston in 2004, or Los Angeles in 2000, etc. This year, it seems like the list of Democrats wary of attending is both more geologically varied (red corners of New York and Pennsylvania) and more prominent (three senators so far). If anything, the list of high-profile no-shows suggests that attendance at the national convention has gone from pro forma to a luxury that only the politically popular can afford. And so far this year, the phenomenon appears limited to Democrats; as the Washington Post notes, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Rep. Robert Dold of Illinois, who represent the most Democratic-leaning state and district held by a Republican, respectively, have both said they will be there in Tampa.

If nothing else, this tells us that Democrats like McCaskill and Tester feel like they have the political wind in their face, and Brown and Dold have the wind at their backs. And one would think they would be watching the political winds very carefully at the moment.


Tags: Democratic Convention


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