Many Iowa Congressional Candidates Don’t Attend National Conventions
By Rod Boshart, Reporter
DES MOINES, Iowa - The glitz and partisan excitement of the national political conventions apparently don’t hold the appeal and drawing power this year for office-holders and office-seekers that they once had.
Several members of Congress facing re-election this year and their challengers, in what are billed as competitive contests, have indicated they will forego the upcoming presidential nominating extravaganzas to focus on their November races.
Only U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat who represents Iowa’s 1st congressional district, has definite plans to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in early September. Republican Ben Lange, his opponent in the Nov. 6 election, said he does not plan to be present for the GOP National Convention in Tampa, Fla., at the end of August.
Likewise, U.S. Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, Leonard Boswell, D-Des Moines, Tom Latham, R-Clive, and Steve King, R-Kiron, either are leaning strongly toward not attending their parties’ national delegate assemblies or have definitely ruled out participating, to devote themselves full time to meeting with residents of their recently reapportioned districts.
Boswell and Latham have been thrown together in a newly configured 3rd congressional district in a race that is being watched nationally. Former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack has attended the Democratic national convention in the past, but will not be doing so this year as she makes her first bid for public office, trying to unseat King in the redrawn 4th congressional district in northwest Iowa.
Loebsack, a former college political science professor, also has been a past convention attendee but is seeking re-election in a new 2nd congressional district against Republican challenger John Archer of Bettendorf.
“Having been to conventions in the past, I am utterly convinced that my time will be best used by being in Iowa, talking to Iowans about how to create jobs and get the economy back on track,” said Loebsack. “Having said that, I continue to believe that the president is the best candidate this fall.”
The Iowa situation mirrors a national trend, where congressional candidates from both political camps facing tough challenges in other states have decided to steer clear of their parties’ high-profile pow-wows.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a delegate to this year’s GOP national convention, said he is surprised by the attention begin given to the convention-skipping by elected officials.
“I’ve never heard of it highlighted like it is this time,” Grassley said. “I’ve been to everyone of them since I ran for the Senate and every one I’ve been a delegate to except one, and I’ve never heard the big deal made that’s being made now out of this issue. Now is it a big deal or not? I’m not sure I know, because I’ve never given it much thought.”
The New Hartford Republican said the convention gives delegates a chance to network with other Republicans and to raise money as political candidates. He also said Iowa’s first-in-the-nation slot in the presidential selection process also brings some big-name speakers to the delegation’s meetings, and that probably will continue this year.
At the same time, Grassley – who is not on the fall ballot in 2012 – conceded he might not have attended this year’s national convention if he was locked in a tight re-election race.
“If you can’t get on national television by being in Tampa or North Carolina, then maybe you’d better be home meeting with your constituents. But sometimes, if you’ve got an opportunity to be on television fairly regularly, that might be more worth your time,” he said. “But it’s something an individual candidate is going to have to make a decision on, and it’s probably different for every campaign.”
Other Iowa elected officials not up for re-election this year will be in attendance.
Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said the governor plans to attend this year’s GOP national convention as a delegate, and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will be an alternate. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, will be in Charlotte in early September.
“Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses mean that the state plays a crucial role in this election – an election Sen. Harkin believes is going to be more important to the direction of our country than any election in more than a half century,” said Kate Cyrul Frischmann, Harkin’s communications director. “The national convention is a chance for Sen. Harkin to interact with those Iowans selected to represent the state, and he looks forward to attending.”
Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford said party conventions have become such heavily scripted and choreographed “four-day infomercials for the party” that candidates see their time better spent elsewhere – especially in a post-reapportionment election.
“With a redistricting year, everybody is running in new territory,” he said. “I think time is just as much of a resource as money. You need to spend it and spend it wisely. That raises the question how important is the convention itself, at least for congressional races. House races are won and lost at the district level, independently of the positive or negative effect of a national ticket. That hasn’t changed.”
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