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Data: EXography

EXography: Some senators, including Harry Reid, rarely go home; other senators do it constantly

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Source: Examiner analysis of Senate Statements of Disbursements. Covers the three-year period ending with March 2014. Excludes senators not in office for that duration and those from Maryland and Virginia. Click a senator to see what cities he visited and when. Watchdog,Senate,Harry Reid,Mitch McConnell,Campaigns,Chuck Schumer,John McCain,EXography,Luke Rosiak,Follow the Money

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rarely makes time to travel back to Nevada and listen to the voters who sent him to Washington, according to a Washington Examiner review of Senate disbursement records.

Reid's office budget showed only 11 trips in three years, far fewer than any other senator.

At the rate of three to four trips per year, Reid was one of seven senators to travel to their home states 11 times a year or fewer.

Other high-profile senior lawmakers have records that aren't much better. Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein averaged only nine trips to California annually, according to Senate office travel logs. That's one-third as many as most lawmakers.

As legislators prepare to adjourn to their home states for the August “district work period,” the Washington Examiner looked at rarely-studied government records covering the three-year period ending in March 2014, showing the travel budget of each member’s taxpayer-funded office.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said the Senate Majority Leader actually traveled "over 100 percent" more than that.

That implies that Reid made some eight trips each year, rather than the four in the official record, thanks to "a number of organizations that pay for his political travel."

Jentleson declined to share documentation for any of the trips.

Members may occasionally have their political campaigns foot the bill for trips whose purpose is campaigning, which would not be reflected in the figures.

But flying back home is generally treated in Congress as a business expense billed to the office, and the handful of politically funded trips would not affect the rankings.

“Can Harry Reid be effective only coming home eight times a year?” asked Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston. “I suppose it depends on what your definition of a senator's job is.”

“To give him his due, he is the most powerful Democrat outside of the president in the country, so that provides a benefit to the state,” Ralston said, noting that as majority leader, Reid has a much better excuse for not getting home than some of his more-junior colleagues with sparse travel records.

“But by being so long in D.C. — since 1982 — and by ascending in leadership to the pinnacle, he must fight the perception that he is a capital creature, as opposed to a Nevadan,” Ralston said.

Philip Blumel, president of US Term Limits, was more blunt: “Harry Reid has the most powerful position in the Senate and he doesn’t have to trouble himself with the little people back home.”

The senator last month sold his home in Searchlight, which it turns out he rarely visited. He once lamented that he hadn’t seen his home in so long that he missed the fact that “my pomegranate trees are, I’m told, blossoming.”

Challengers and new lawmakers often say veterans need to go because they’ve lost touch with their roots, and constituents insist that no matter a lawmaker's duties, they always come first.

In 2001, Feinstein told Larry King that traveling home frequently was “really helpful” because “you talk to — well, real people about real issues and you can bring back stories and anecdotes and suggestions.”

But the Californian has run for two six-year terms since then, is now 81 years old and goes home only nine times a year.

Feinstein spokesman Tom Mentzer told the Examiner that "the senator often stays in Washington for full work periods (three weeks or so) rather than flying back every weekend," especially since California is further away than most states.

California's other senator, Democrat Barbara Boxer, managed to go home 30 times a year.

Democrat Jay Rockefeller, who joined the Senate in 1985 and turned 77 last month, made only 11 trips back to West Virginia yearly, according to the office records.

By comparison, North Carolina Republican Richard Burr, who was elected in 2005 and is 20 years younger, made 46 per year.

Democrat Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Republicans Pat Roberts of Kansas and Mike Crapo of Idaho each show 11 trips a year or less.

Johnson spokesman Perry Plumart said technology has made it possible for lawmakers to be more in touch than ever before, even if they can’t be physically in their states, and that Johnson “uses social media and other technology to remain accessible to his constituents, and encourages South Dakotans to share their opinions by writing or calling his office.”

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., who began serving in only 2009, has from the beginning seldom visited his home state, ranking dead last among newer members.

The most hands-on senator by far is Democrat Tom Carper. Geography -- the rail lines running from Union Station, next to the Capitol -- to his state of Delaware make it physically possible.

But, as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Carper manages to do what Reid cannot, balancing home-state responsibilities with a powerful national position.

Travel records show 145 trips back to Delaware in the three-year period.

“Each morning, before catching the 7:15 a.m. train out of Wilmington, he starts his day at his local YMCA for a workout, where he also talks to constituents,” a Carper spokesperson said.

“Most nights, he takes the train home to attend a local event, and the next day, starts his routine all over again,” the spokesman said.

Vice President Joe Biden, who represented Delaware in the Senate for many years prior to the 2008 presidential election, was also known for making many train rides to and from his home state.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., maintains an impressive travel schedule, though one made possible in part by throwing money at the problem: He spent nearly a million tax dollars to have a private plane available in order to make 119 trips in three years.

That put Schumer in third place in the Senate travel rankings.

Constituent contact is not a partisan issue, and there are senators from both parties who return home frequently and infrequently.

But overall, 10 out of the top 15 travelers are Republicans, which is perhaps especially notable given that rural, red states can be harder to reach.

One old-timer stands out for his sustained commitment to keeping his roots: Republican Chuck Grassley took 99 trips home over the last three years, besting colleagues who are decades younger than the Iowan.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made 26 trips home a year, a record far better than his contemporaries and night-and-day from Reid's three trips a year.

McConnell is up for reelection in 2014, but his trips back home to Kentucky were consistent across the three years analyzed by the Examiner.

“His dual roles are without question demanding, but he never lets his role as party leader get in the way of his first priority, serving the needs of the Kentuckians he proudly represents,” spokesman Robert Steurer said.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been in the Senate since 1987, shows only 13 trips to Arizona annually.

Spokesman Brian Rogers said his boss actually made at least 55 trips to Arizona in the three-year period, or 18 a year, including some in which he was taken there by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Rogers noted that the presidential campaign kept McCain busy on the national stage and that he spent many weekends on international missions.

“Since January 2011, Sen. McCain has traveled to Afghanistan seven times and Iraq three times,” including spending the Fourth of July with the Arizona National Guard in Afghanistan,” Rogers said.

His national policy roles and state advocacy often converge, Rogers said, pointing to “a visit to the border as the humanitarian crisis unfolded there” and “a meeting with the leadership of the Phoenix VA right at the outset of the VA scandal.”

When Sen. Jon Kyl, the junior senator from Arizona, was retiring in 2012, he honored McCain, his senior counterpart who remained on the job, by noting that during McCain's early years as a member of the House, “he came home every week, maintained very close contact with his constituents.”

“But he didn't leave it at the State of Arizona,” reminiscing about the “sojourns that Senator McCain has led abroad” as a “national figure.”

As McCain noted in gratitude, “We have worked together in this body for the last 18 years. That is a long time.”

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Luke Rosiak

Senior Watchdog Reporter/Data Editor
The Washington Examiner

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