Democrats Skip Out, Adding to Convention Woes

On top of logistical concerns, a handful of candidates won't attend.

June 27, 2012, 8:27 AM

June 27, 2012 -- Four years ago, President Obama's coronation in Denver was a big, happy party.

More than 84,000 Democrats attended Obama's nomination speech at Invesco Field, waiting for hours in a long, snaking line to see the Illinois senator's address among Greek-looking columns, and no one in attendance seemed to heed the conservative mockery they invited.

Denver's streets were filled with political revelers, cabbing from party to party. Somewhere, Kanye West was around.

In 2012, the mood will undoubtedly be festive, but the convention has been beset by a string of bad news in its planning stages.

Over the past few days, a handful of Democratic candidates and elected officials have announced, through their campaigns, that they will not attend the 2012 convention in Charlotte, to be held Sept. 3-6.

Most notable among them is Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who championed Obama as one of his primary endorsers and top surrogates in 2008. "You can't underestimate the importance of Claire McCaskill to this campaign," senior Obama campaign adviser Anita Dunn said in June 2008.

The growing list of Democratic truants includes Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va; West Virginia Gov. Early Ray Tomblin; Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah; Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.., ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield reported on Tuesday.

In addition to Tester, two more Democratic senate candidates in competitive races, Arizona's Richard Carmona and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, will not attend the convention, their campaigns confirmed to ABC News. The convention falls in the first week of Carmona's general-election campaign; he faces no opposition in the state's August 28 primary, though he'll learn who his Republican opponent will be.

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., won't attend the convention either, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Tuesday.

These non-attendees have said they will campaign in their states and districts while the convention is happening, and they've downplayed any notion that their decisions were motivated by a reluctance to embrace the Democratic Party and its leader, Barack Obama. Heitkamp spokesman Liam Forsythe said the candidate had planned not to attend the convention "for some time." McCaskill tweeted that news of her non-attendance amounted to a "whole lot of nothing" and that she supposes Obama agrees with her decision. Democratic convention planners declined to comment on the handful of planned absences.

But some of these Democrats hail from states where Obama isn't popular, and where he's not expected to win in November. In West Virginia, federal inmate Keith Judd took a sizable portion of the vote against Obama in the state's Democratic presidential primary. After voting narrowly for John McCain in 2008, Missouri rates solidly as Romney country.

These announcements come as convention planners decided Tuesday to move the opening-day kick-off event, a grassroots organizing festival to be held at a NASCAR speedway on Charlotte's outskirts. Distance from the convention itself presented logistical complications for both attendants and media, and planners decided to move the CarolinaFest 2012 event into Charlotte proper to avoid sending Democratic activists to a Charlotte Motor Speedway for a sweltering day that might garner less media coverage because of its location.

In January, organizers shortened the convention from four days to three "to make room for organizing day and celebrating #DNC2012 host community," the host committee announced via Twitter.

Organizers this week denied a Bloomberg report that they have fallen $27 million short of their fundraising goal. "We are right on track with the fundraising we are doing," convention chief executive Stephen Kerrigan told National Journal by telephone on Tuesday.

Perhaps another issue for the Democratic convention is its location.

President Obama won North Carolina in 2008, while Democrat Kay Hagan defeated incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole in the state's high-profile Senate race. With their performances in North Carolina and Virginia, Democrats expanded their map of competitive states and made promising inroads into the South--inroads that hadn't been available to them since Bill Clinton's presidential campaigns.

Democrats announced their finalist cities of Charlotte, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and St. Louis in June 2010. After the Metrodome roof collapsed amid a snowstorm in Minneapolis, organizers were hemmed in. Charlotte looked like a politically aggressive choice--a signal that Democrats would fight to defend their Southern beachhead in 2012--but now, North Carolina rates only barely as a swing state. Gallup found Obama's North Carolina approval was 43.7 percent in 2011, according to data released in January, a 3.2-percent decline from 2010. Obama's endorsement of gay marriage, after North Carolina passed an amendment banning it this year, seemed to put him at odds with voters there.

While Republicans could see a minor boost in Florida after Mitt Romney's nomination in Tampa in August, Obama may not benefit from a similar swing-state bump.

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