Please, please, please: no one cares — and no one should care — whether Members of Congress and other candidates plan to show up at their party’s national convention.
The press keeps reporting on this or that public official’s plan to attend or not attend; the latest reports tell us that the Republican nominee for Senate from Virginia, George Allen, isn’t going. But really, none of this is news. We’re told that candidates will be attacked whether they go (they must support everything the nominee has ever said or done!) or not (they’re rejecting the nominee!). I’m highly skeptical of that. Yes, the other campaign may send out a press release or perhaps go as far as posting a video on the web, because if the campaign is fully funded and staffed, there’s probably some excess capacity, and people need something to do.
But no swing voter is going to care about this, even in the unlikely chance that undecided voters (who typically are low-information citizens) hear about it at all. And by Labor Day, when voters might start paying attention, this will be ancient, forgotten history.
Why would candidates go to their party conventions in the first place, anyway? In the post-reform era, party conventions have two functions, other than the purely formal job of actually confirming nominations that were decided long ago. Conventions are advertising for the party and its ticket. For that function, delegates’ only job is to look excited, enthusiastic, and all-American (depending, of course, on the image of “all-American” that the party wants to project) for the cameras. They essentially are extras.
Conventions are also general gatherings of the party network. For many, that means both social and professional networking. For candidates, it mainly means that there are lots of party resources (money, reputation) all gathered in one place. That’s appealing…maybe. But since it’s not 1972, much less 1912, it’s not really clear how much of an advantage, if any, it is for individual candidates to attend. Yes, a reasonably high-profile candidate might snag a five minute opportunity to deliver scripted lines to the dozens of people watching C-SPAN and to whoever in the convention room is paying attention at the moment. But we’ll leave that out of the plus side.
Against that, you have the time and expense of spending a few days at the convention site when candidates should be out campaigning. Candidates may decide the latter is a better use of their time — and may not be running away from their party’s nominee.
This is not, in short, a story. It doesn’t tell us anything about the presidential campaign — or about the Congressional campaigns.