|U.S. Representative Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, addresses questions during the Reuters Washington Summit, June 26, 2012. (Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS)
The man responsible for getting Democrats elected to the U.S. Congress this fall has a message for his party’s candidates: Stay away from the Democratic National Convention.
“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” New York congressman Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday.
The Democratic convention, to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early September to formally nominate President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee, is viewed warily by some of the party’s candidates.
The September 3-6 gathering to fete a president whose popularity ratings have hovered around 50% is a particularly sensitive issue for Democratic candidates who are in close races in states or districts where Obama trails Republican Mitt Romney in voter surveys.
For such candidates, four days of mingling with Democratic leaders could turn off independent voters before the Nov. 6 election.
“A trip to Charlotte may be interesting,” Israel said, “but why leave your districts?”
Obama’s poll ratings have little to do with his stance, Israel said.
“I don’t care if the president was at 122% favorability right now,” he said. “I think (candidates) should be in their districts.”
McCASKILL STAYING AWAY
Israel’s admonition comes as a growing list of Democrats say they will not be joining their fellow partisans in Charlotte. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, one of the Democratic Party’s most vulnerable candidates, will not attend, an aide said.
Romney was running several points behind Obama in recent polls in Missouri, where McCaskill trailed her Republican opponent, Sarah Steelman.
“McCaskill’s decision obviously does not change the fact that she was one of Barack Obama’s earliest and staunchest supporters,” said Jonathon Prouty, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party.
Three Democratic lawmakers from West Virginia - where a federal inmate got 41% of the vote against Obama in the state’s Democratic presidential primary in May - have said they also will pass on Charlotte: Senator Joe Manchin, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Representative Nick Rahall.
Three other endangered Democrats in the U.S. House -Pennsylvania’s Mark Critz, New York’s Kathy Hochul and Bill Owens, also of New York - have said that they will stay away from Charlotte.
Those decisions have led some Republicans to crow that the Democrats facing difficult races are afraid to be seen near Obama.
In Montana, a state Romney is likely to win easily and where there is a competitive U.S. Senate race, Democratic Senator John Tester and his challenger, Republican Representative Denny Rehberg, will both skip their parties’ conventions.
Taking back control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans is a daunting task for Israel and the Democrats. Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010, as conservatives from the Tea Party movement helped Republicans seize the House majority.
To win back the 435-member House, Democrats need a net gain of 25 seats.