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This summer's Democratic National Convention has already gotten shorter, shrinking from the traditional four-day extravaganza to three days. Now it appears the attendance for the event is shrinking, too.
At least a dozen Democrats say they won't be able to make it to Charlotte, N.C., when the convention begins Sept. 4. It's no coincidence that all are facing tough election campaigns in places where President Obama's popularity lags.
Four years ago, then-West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin addressed Democrats gathered in Denver for their party's convention. He gave a full-throated endorsement of the man the party would soon nominate as its standard-bearer.
"Barack Obama is the only candidate in this race who has captured our nation's hopes for the kind of change we so desperately need," said Manchin. "Let's do what's right for America and elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States."
That was 2008.
In 2012, now-Sen. Manchin won't be attending, much less addressing the convention where Obama will be renominated. Instead, according to a statement from his office, Manchin will be "focused on the people of West Virginia." Manchin is running for re-election in a state where being on the same ballot as the Democratic president is not likely to be helpful.
Among the 12 Democrats who have said they will be skipping the Democratic convention are Sen. Jon Tester from Montana and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
"It's like a luxury to go to a party convention," says McCaskill. "I think most of the media spends most of its time talking about how worthless these conventions have become, and then they try to make a big deal out of the fact that people aren't going to them. I think it has everything to do with me being in a tough race. I have never attended a convention when I've been in a contested race."
McCaskill was an early supporter of Obama, and says she hopes he will campaign in Missouri, which the president narrowly lost in 2008.
Others Opting To Campaign
While Obama has a better shot of carrying Pennsylvania, he's probably not going to win the 12th Congressional District of Democratic Rep. Mark Critz in the southwestern part of the state.
"It's a blue-collar, working-class district that tends to be pro-life and pro-gun, one that the president historically has had trouble with. And as a result of that, Critz, like some other Democrats around the country, sort of Blue Dog types, are resisting getting too closely connected with the administration," says Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
That includes Rep. John Barrow of Georgia; Reps. Bill Owens and Kathy Hochul, both of northern New York; Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah; former surgeon general and now U.S. Senate candidate from Arizona Richard Carmona; and Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. All have said they won't attend the convention.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Rep. Nick Rahall also say they will not be in Charlotte in September.
Romney Camp Mocks 'Debacle'
These are the latest blows to convention organizers, who have had a rocky time of it lately. On Monday, they announced they were moving a big Labor Day rally that had been planned for the Charlotte Motor Speedway to a smaller site in the uptown area of the city.
Republicans are predictably having fun with the announced Democratic no-shows. A release from Mitt Romney's campaign was gleefully headlined, "Debacle: Dozen Dem Defectors Ditch DNC."
McCaskill calls it a no-win situation.
"I think if I went to the convention, the Republican operatives would be trying to get all of the press to talk about the fact that I'm ignoring Missourians in favor of bigwig donors and party hacks," she says. "So I think I'm in one of those situations that no matter what I have chosen, the folks running against me would have found something to be critical of."
And McCaskill and other Democrats are getting some cover from party leaders. The head of the Democratic House campaign committee says it makes sense for Democrats to stay in their districts during the convention — the same advice the party gave its candidates four years ago.