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Opinion: Ryan budget keeps vulnerable Republicans away from Tampa

When the Republican convention gets going Tuesday night, several high-profile GOP candidates will be no-shows.

Their absences have nothing to do with the weather — and everything to do with the political winds blowing about.

Republicans don’t want to talk about these “ghosts.” But in the weeks since Mitt Romney tabbed Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to be his running mate, a surprising number of GOP congressional candidates decided that — in order to win in November — it was better for them to distance themselves from the Ryan budget plan and its cuts to Medicare.

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And that means they don’t want to be seen at this convention.

Linda McMahon, the GOP’s Senate candidate in Connecticut, is not coming. She is saying openly she opposes the Ryan budget because she “will never support a budget that cuts Medicare.”

Former Rep. Heather Wilson, the GOP’s Senate candidate in New Mexico, will be staying home, too.

Wilson said she “didn’t agree with everything in the Ryan plan” and “was concerned about some of his approaches to Medicare.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg, the GOP’s Senate candidate in Montana, also has better things to do than come to Tampa.

Rehberg was one of four Republicans to vote against the Ryan budget in the House last year.

The Montana GOP is running television ads throughout the state boasting about how Rehberg “rejected” the Ryan budget because it “could harm the Medicare program that so many of Montana’s seniors rely on.”

Also missing from the convention action is Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.). He is running for reelection and voted for the Ryan budget twice in 2011 — once as member of the House, and once as a senator.

He changed his vote to a “no” when the Ryan budget came up for a vote again in May 2012.

“Today’s votes were not a serious effort to pass a budget,” he told his hometown newspaper. “After this charade, our nation is no closer to economic prosperity or addressing our massive national debt.”

The candidates’ decision to skip the convention is solidly based on polls that show voters fear the Republican budget plan to end Medicare as we know it and replace it with a voucher system for private insurance. 

According to one CNN poll, 58 percent of Americans of all ages and 74 percent of seniors oppose the budget.

Seniors are critical to GOP hopes because they vote, and lean Republican. In Florida, 17.3 percent of residents are senior citizens over the age of 65.

In Pennsylvania, another swing state, 15.4 percent of residents are over 65. In Iowa, the over-65 population is 14.9 percent.

Those numbers don’t even tell the whole story. In the next decade, as baby boomers retire, there are millions more Americans set to join the 50 million who are current Medicare beneficiaries.

It is not just Senate candidates who have decided the Ryan budget is a big cloud hanging over the convention.

Several House candidates in tough races are also citing the Ryan plan as the reason they are skipping the convention.

The two incumbent Republican congressmen from Nevada, Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, will be staying in their districts to focus on their own tough reelection races.

Along with Sen. Heller’s absence, this means that not a single Republican member of the Silver State’s congressional delegation will be attending the convention.

Tea Party freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is also skipping the election to focus on his reelection campaign.

“The conventions are nothing more than an excuse to mingle with insiders and party with the elite,” Walsh said in a statement. “This district does not want just another insider to represent them; they want an independent who will fight for real solutions to the issues.”

Another freshman Republican who will not be attending the convention is Rep. David McKinley (W.Va.). He is campaigning on his opposition to the Ryan budget by sending out fliers to his constituents that say: “Congressman McKinley recently voted against the 2012 budget passed by the House because of the plan’s negative impact on northern West Virginia seniors.”

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and GOP presidential candidate, is likewise staying away.

He had attended every GOP convention since 1984. But Huntsman said in a statement, “I will not be attending this year's convention, nor any Republican convention in the future, until the party focuses on a bigger, bolder, more confident future for the United States — a future based on problem solving, inclusiveness and a willingness to address the trust deficit, which is every bit as corrosive as our fiscal and economic deficits.”

This year’s Republican candidates are in a truly difficult position. They need the financial and organizational support of the national party but feel the need to distance their campaigns from the GOP ticket.

In 11 weeks, the 2012 election will be over. When we look back on the GOP convention, the most surprising victories might not come from the candidates who showed up, but rather from the candidates who stayed home.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.