A fresh round of Democrats has announced they will not be attending the party convention in Charlotte. Most troublingly for President Obama, several of them are from North Carolina, and not only have they decided not to drop in on a convention held in their own state, they’ve refused to endorse Obama for president in 2012.
The latest round of Democrats fleeing from Obama include North Carolina congressmen Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell, plus candidate Hayden Rogers. Additionally, news broke just before the Fourth of July holiday that Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas has decided not to attend the party convention, although he does support Obama for president.
The North Carolina trio hasn’t been particularly talkative about their decision, with McIntyre and Kissell refusing to return calls from the Asheville Citizen-Times. Rachel Adams of the North Carolina GOP, on the other hand, was quite happy to discuss the situation with the press, saying “Hayden Rogers’ refusal to publicly support both President Obama and attend his own party’s national convention illustrates that North Carolina voters have rejected President Obama’s job killing, big government policies. If President Obama can’t even capture enthusiasm from his own party, how can he expect to rally voters in November?”
It’s tougher to sell the “too busy campaigning to waste time at the convention” excuse when you’re talking about candidates in the very state where the convention is being held. In fact, Kissell represents the 8th Congressional District, where Charlotte is located. Furthermore, a busy schedule of campaign activities doesn’t explain why these folks refuse to endorse Obama for re-election.
There are some Republicans who have decided not to attend their party’s convention in Tampa, such as George Allen of Virginia, whose opponent Tim Kaine says he will be at the Democrat convention in Charlotte. But far more Democrats are taking a pass on Charlotte, and some of them are making it clear that they want to distance themselves from an unpopular President while running tough races in red and purple states. It’s also telling that a key early Obama supporter, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, is among those skipping the 2012 convention.
It’s tough to say if this is a “record” number of candidates and elected officials skipping a party convention. Both Republican and Democrat candidates skipped their 2008 conventions, generally with the same stated reason of being too busy with campaign activities to attend, but their numbers look to have been considerably smaller, with fewer refusals to endorse. It also seems, from a review of 2008 news articles, that these announcements tended to come much later in the game, closer to the date of the actual conventions. The media didn’t make as much of a fuss about it as they are today.
Of course, there wasn’t an incumbent President on the ticket in 2008. (In fact, the most widely reported convention-skipping decision in 2008 was George Bush’s announcement that he wouldn’t attend the Republican convention, and he pointedly was not running for office at the time.) Looking back to 2004, only three Senate candidates made any headlines by announcing they would skip the GOP convention in New York: David Vitter of Louisiana, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Greater attention was paid to the non-attendance of a non-candidate, Colin Powell. I think it can be said that the number and stature of Democrat candidates bailing on the 2012 convention is remarkable, if not historic.
Will all of this convention-skipping make a difference, once affairs in Charlotte have been concluded? No doubt the Republicans will make some hay of it, reminding presidential voters that candidates from Obama’s own party took pains to distance themselves from him, while the opponents of Democrats in tight local races will portray their refusal to attend the convention as transparent attempts to hide their liberalism and party loyalty.
The effectiveness of those tactics will probably depend upon President Obama’s standing in the polls as the election draws closer. If he’s doing well in the fall, it won’t matter that a sizable number of candidates chose to avoid his convention; if he’s down in the polls, the convention-skippers will be salt in his political wounds. The tenor of the convention will probably have a lot to do with it as well, as a successful convention largely free of controversy or major political stumbles will go a long way toward erasing the memory of those who chose not to attend.