The decision by Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, one of this year's most embattled Democratic incumbents, to skip her party's presidential convention, says volumes about President Obama’s changing political fortunes in four years, and her own.
She’s not the only Democrat who intends to stay home. Colleagues like Sen. Jon Tester in Montana is also in a tough re-election race, and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia came to the chamber already at odds with some Obama policies. Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic Senate candidate in North Dakota, also has sent her regrets.
Several House Democrats facing difficult races are staying away from the four-day affair in Charlotte, N.C., too. They all worry that the president’s declining popularity in certain parts of the country, and that opposition to some of his signature initiatives, like health care, could hurt them politically.
It’s not that different from four years ago when some Republicans facing re-election, but concerned about then-President George W. Bush’s image, shunned their own convention.
But McCaskill’s no-show is a flashing yellow light because she was one of his biggest and most prominent boosters in 2008. Friends while he was in the Senate, she offered Obama an important endorsement when the early money was on another, more prominent senator at the time, Hillary Clinton, to win the nomination.
The pressure inside the Senate Democratic caucus was to throw in with her, but it was more intense for McCaskill. By siding with Obama, she appeared to be rejecting the potential first female president.
McCaskill’s campaign says she’s staying away this year because her time could be better spent back home campaigning. That might be true enough. McCaskill is unlikely to find any Missouri voters in Charlotte who aren’t already on her side. Among Democratic Senate incumbents facing re-election, she might very well have the steepest hill to climb.
Her campaign also points out that she has only attended Democratic Party conventions in recent years when she has either not been on the ballot or was, but had no opposition.
Republicans crow that McCaskill is staying away in an effort to lessen her link with the president.
“Skipping a few cocktail parties and rallies in Charlotte doesn't distance her from the president,” Sarah Steelman, one of three Missouri Republicans hoping to face her in the fall, said in a statement.
Indeed, with all her television appearances during the campaign four years ago, and all the images of her and Obama, Hercules’ twelve labors might seem easier by comparison.