The truancy politics of 2014 races
© Getty Images

Welcome to the truancy wars.

Missed votes and skipped hearings have suddenly become a major focus in Senate campaigns across the country.

In states from New Hampshire to North Carolina and Iowa to Colorado, GOP challengers have been slamming Democratic incumbents for skipping their day jobs in order to fundraise for reelection.

Republicans have been looking to paint their foes as more interested in staying in office than helping their constituents, and they are accusing them of not caring about the issues they missed hearings about, from fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to confronting The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

But not all are Republicans are perfect messengers. Democrats have counterattacked with examples of those same Republicans missing official work in their elected positions.

North Carolina featured the latest flare-up of the line of attack, spurred by Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganLinking repatriation to job creation Former Sen. Kay Hagan in ICU after being rushed to hospital GOP senator floats retiring over gridlock MORE’s (D-N.C.) admission on Tuesday that she missed an Armed Services Committee hearing to attend a fundraiser in New York City.

"You know, there was one," Hagan admitted in a post-debate press conference when asked by a reporter whether she'd missed any of the committee hearings to raise money. "And what had happened at that hearing, it was scheduled early in the day. And then votes were scheduled, and that hearing then had to be postponed later that day. So yes, I did miss that one."

North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and his allies pounced on the comments. Tillis was quick to release a new ad on Thursday saying Hagan “did cocktails” while “ISIS grew” and that she missed more than half the committee’s hearings. The conservative group American Crossroads released an ad Friday hitting the same topic.

Hagan’s campaign has fired back by pointing out that Tillis has also landed in hot water for skipping official business to fundraise — enough that his hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, called for him to give up his leadership role.

Hagan and Tillis repeatedly tangled over truancy in a Thursday night debate, with Tillis calling Hagan “shameless” for missing the hearings.

Republicans believe the issue is a winning one even in states where their candidates don’t have perfect attendance records themselves. To them, it only enforces the notion that the incumbent Democrats have “gone Washington” in a year where Beltway taint is a dangerous thing.

“These attacks reinforce that these are incumbents and part of Washington, two things you don't want to be in a cycle like this,” said American Crossroads spokesman Paul Lindsay, whose group has run ads hitting Democrats on attendance. “It speaks to a number of issues including Washington dysfunction ... and it's topical given the ISIS hearings and national security concerns as well.

But Democrats believe the move shows Republicans don’t have a better attack line against their incumbents than what they see as a muddled issue.

“These attendance attacks are being made by Republicans with long and worse records of showing up for work and reflects a lack of a message against their opponents,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky.

Republicans have also run ads slamming Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer MORE (D-Iowa) for missing a number of Veterans' Affairs Committee hearings, tying him to the VA scandals and accusing him of skipping the hearings to fundraise. His allies have fired back that his opponent, Republican Joni Ernst, also missed a large share of her time in the Iowa state Senate and earlier in other government positions in order to campaign.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenHomeland Security searching some social media doesn't violate privacy The feds shouldn't blackball Kaspersky without public evidence Week ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny MORE (D-N.H.) and former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) have also tussled over missed votes and hearings on the air and in debates. Brown’s campaign aired an ad criticizing Shaheen for skipping hearing “where a top official gave an early warning of a new terrorist group known as ISIS.” Shaheen fired back, saying Brown missed every border security hearing while he was in the Senate.

Rep. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans jockey for position on immigration Bipartisan bill would toughen North Korea sanctions, require Trump's strategy GOP senators push for delay of ObamaCare insurer tax MORE (R-Colo.) has also hit Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D-Colo.) for missing ISIS hearings, while Udall has responded with attacks on Gardner’s Senate attendance record.