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Tempest in a teapot

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

When was the last time you said, "I've got to watch this political convention from the opening gavel to the closing remarks?"

I don't think a national convention from either party has decided major issues, or had any suspense about who would be nominated, since the 1980s. Even then, major figures stayed home or went home early. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo flew home after he delivered the keynote address that made him famous at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Cuomo started a trend. More and more officeholders attend a day or two, and then fly back home to attend to other duties.

Gone are the days when the TV networks covered everything (and I do mean everything) at the national nominating conventions. Everybody wanted to be there. Not anymore. The Christian Science Monitor quotes Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, who says officeholders skipping their party's national convention "is something that's been sort of happening slowly over the years." Duffy also points out that the conventions are so close to Election Day this year that candidates feel pressured to sandwich the convention in among campaign appearances.

This is the "silly season." So it's no surprise Republicans and Democrats are trying to make a big deal out of no-shows at the other's convention. The Republicans keep their convention skippers under wraps, so it's harder to find out who among the GOP's "who's who" will be there, and who will not be. But the Democrats, who first fight each other before they fight the Republicans, are open about which of their glitterati are attending.

So far, 12 Democratic officeholders and/or candidates, out a total of 5,556 delegates, have decided to stay home and campaign. There's no surprise in that. The re-nomination of a sitting president has less suspense than when he first won. So there's less publicity value in being at a convention where the outcome is known, and less news.

This is also the first election year of unlimited campaign spending.

These super PACS are new. Their potential impact, with saturation mud-slinging commercials, is an unknown. That's why Rep. Steve Israel, the House Democratic campaign chairman, told candidates to stay home: "If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts."

That's what Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is doing. She was not up for re-election in 2008 when Obama was first nominated, and was seen everywhere promoting him. However, this year she has four strong would-be challengers from the Republican ranks, including one sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"I think if I went," McCaskill said, "those same Republican operatives that are criticizing me for not going, would say she thinks party honchos are more important than Missourians." She's got that right.

Three West Virginia officeholders are skipping the Democratic convention. They owe their offices to voters who gave 40 percent of their 2012 primary votes to a white Texas felon who ran against President Obama from his jail cell. West Virginia voted for McCain in 2008. Silliness.

On the Republican side, a little digging turned up several officeholders or campaigners who are skipping out on the Tempest in Tampa. There are also at least two people the Republicans hope won't show. One is former Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, who is on trial for stealing $100,000 from the party. Greer has said he won't hesitate to reveal the party's dirty laundry during his defense, which will helpfully conclude just before the party convention begins.

The other person the Republicans would just as soon skip their Florida convention is Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has the current distinction of being America's most unpopular governor. His standing in the polls is only at 39 percent. There's talk that Hawaii's GOP senatorial candidate Linda Lingle may also skip the gathering.

As for the growing trend of no-shows, the Republicans have some high-profile candidates who don't mind staying away from Romney's nomination. Nevada's Sen. Dean Heller, who was appointed to fill the office when Republican John Ensign resigned in disgrace, will come only if he gets a prime time slot on television. "If Dean Heller is offered a prime time speaking role, he'll be there," said Heller's campaign manager, Mac Abrams. "If not, he has a campaign to run."

One-half of the Florida delegates will not be attending, having been tossed out because they violated party rules by moving the state's primary into January. The Florida Republicans knew the risk they were taking, and apparently didn't consider losing half their voting strength in Tampa that great a disappointment.

In a perfect bipartisan pairing, Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg is skipping the Republican convention in August to campaign against incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, who is missing the Democratic convention in September to focus on defeating Rehberg.

As I said, it's the silly season, and there are good reasons not to attend the conventions. It's a trend.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist and a political commentator.