When Democrats picked Charlotte, N.C., as the location for their 2012 nominating convention, their choice was intended to showcase President Obama's success with moderate and independent voters in normally Republican states like North Carolina. It does not appear to be working out so well. A significant number of Democratic moderates, facing their own re-election contests, are suddenly announcing they will be skipping the convention.
So far, the growing Democratic bail-out list is replete with moderate members facing competitive races this fall. It includes Sens. Claire McCaskill, Mo., Joe Manchin, W.Va., and Jon Tester, Mont., as well as Reps. Nick Rahall, W.Va., John Barrow, Ga., Mark Critz, Pa., Kathy Hochul, N.Y., Jim Matheson, Utah, and Bill Owens, N.Y. Also staying away is West Virginia Gov. Earl Tomblin.
McCaskill, a moderate Democrat from Missouri, was a featured speaker at the 2008 convention, introduced to the tune of "Come Together" by the Beatles. This year, according to the most recent Rasmussen poll, she finds herself trailing all of her potential GOP challengers. Like many of the others skipping Obama's renomination, she insists it's not significant that she won't be "coming together" this time. "Everybody's trying to make this a big deal," she protested. "It's stupid." Surely, it has nothing to do with Obama's 57 percent disapproval rating (according to Rasmussen's June survey) in Missouri, which is normally a swing state.
In an effort to give his colleagues some cover, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Israel, R-N.Y., absurdly announced he would rather have all of his party's candidates stay away from the convention in September. "If they want to win an election," he told reporters, "they need to be in their districts. ... I don't care if the president was at 122 percent favorability right now."
Of course, Obama's rating is not 122 percent, nor even 50 percent. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of registered voters has him at 47 percent job approval nationally, with 48 percent disapproving of his job performance. His favorable (48 percent) and unfavorable (38 percent) ratings are at almost exactly the same levels as in November 2010, when his party received its "shellacking" at the polls. Only 42 percent approve of Obama's performance on the economy, with 53 percent disapproving. The numbers are much worse in many of the states and districts with competitive 2012 races. It should come as little surprise that Democrats in difficult states and districts don't want to be seen with him.
Whatever excuses they offer, these incumbent Democrats are making a decision that often presages a party's failure. In 2008, five incumbent Republican senators with competitive races skipped their party convention in Saint Paul, Minn. Four of them lost in that year's Republican bloodbath as John McCain lost the presidential contest to Obama. Our searches for noteworthy Republican incumbents who stayed away from the then-popular George W. Bush's renomination in 2004 turned up only Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was not facing re-election and (more importantly) had a hurricane running through his state the week it was held.
In 1992, USA Today reported at least 16 of the 43 Republican senators and 70 of the 166 representatives decided not to attend President George H.W. Bush's second nominating convention. The elder Bush was sunk after his opponents successfully challenged him for appearing out of touch on the economy. Many Democrats in tight spots are showing signs they fear a repeat and don't want to go down with the ship.