Rubio's explanation for why he missed the vote? "Guys, I’m running for president. When I miss votes it’s not because I’m on vacation.” Er, not the best. Especially when Rubio's rise in polls has coincided with an increased focus on his voting record (or lack thereof) by his GOP opponents.
Donald Trump has been, unsurprisingly, the most outspoken on the topic. He sent out this gem at 1:2o am recently:
Rubio is totally owned by the lobbyists and special interests. A lightweight senator with the worst voting record in Senate. Lazy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2015
That line of attack echoed Trump's hit on Rubio during the second presidential debate; "You have to understand, I am not sitting in the United States Senate with, by the way, the worst voting record there is today," Trump said of Rubio.
Jeb Bush, who's watched as Rubio has challenged him for the establishment mantle in the race of late, has hit his Florida colleague on the issue too -- albeit it with a softer touch than Trump. "I don't know about you, but this idea that somehow voting isn't important, I mean what are they supposed to do?," Bush asked an Iowa audience recently. "They should go to the committee hearings, they should vote."
The logic behind the attack is simple: Rubio wants a promotion but he's not even doing the job he currently has! And we are paying his salary!
There are two things to sort out here: (1) Is Rubio as much of an absentee as Bush and Trump are suggesting? and (2) If he is, will voters care?
It's relatively easy to answer the first one. And the answer is, generally, yes; Rubio is missing a bunch of votes as he runs for president.
Here's the math on it -- courtesy of NBC Capitol Hill producer extraordinaire Frank Thorp V:
That's generally in keeping with this PolitiFact breakdown of missed votes from last month, which showed Rubio leading the way at 29.1 percent followed by Ted Cruz at 23.4 percent and Lindsey Graham at 22.6 percent. (I'm not sure what explains the discrepancy in the Graham number other than that he missed a whole lot of votes in the last month or so.)
The point is: Rubio is missing four out of every 10 (or so) votes the Senate has taken since he formally announced for president in the spring. That's among the highest total of any of the five men running for president from the Senate.
Which brings us to the second question: Does it matter?
Much harder to say, honestly.
Context can make Rubio's record in the Senate look less bad. Earlier this year, Cruz was taking considerable heat for missing votes -- he missed 70 percent of votes in April -- including the confirmation vote for Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Now, it's Rubio's turn, suggesting that you can cherry-pick time periods to make one senator or another the worst attendee in the most recent whatever months.
Then there is the bigger question over whether people care, a question on which I am relatively skeptical. I can sum up my skepticism in just two words: Barack Obama.
Here's the first few paragraphs of a CNN report from Fall 2007 about Obama's voting record:
Sen. Barack Obama has missed the most votes of any Democratic presidential hopeful in the Senate over the last two months, including a vote on an Iran resolution he has blasted Sen. Hillary Clinton for supporting.
The Illinois Democrat has missed nearly 80 percent of all votes since September.
Things worked out pretty okay for Obama in that race if my memory serves me right.
Obama, of course, doesn't prove definitely that missing votes in the Senate doesn't have political salience. How the attack is framed and the context of the race where it lands matters too. No one thought that Obama was lazy or slacked off, so the attack didn't find fertile ground. If Trump, Bush or some other Republican in the field can use Rubio's missed Senate votes as part of a pattern of a guy who is always looking for his next move rather than doing the job to which he is elected then, maybe, they could hurt Rubio badly with the attack.
Maybe. I tend to think voters get that running for president requires you to spend lots of time in Iowa, New Hampshire, and that you can't be in two places at once. This theory will get tested, however, over the next months as both Trump and Bush seem likely to ramp up their attacks on Rubio's attendance record.