Senators skipping leadership confrence

Republican senators hoping to succeed President Bush in 2008 are skipping one of Michigan’s time-honored GOP political traditions — the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

Next month, the Michigan Republican Party hosts the conference, expected to draw between 2,000 and 3,000 GOP activists, elected officials and College Republicans.
Michigan GOP officials say the three-day conference, on the tiny (and tony) island on Lake Michigan, is a must-attend for anyone running statewide or for the Oval Office.

But so far, according to their schedulers and press secretaries, most of the Republican senators with their eyes on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. are putting their states and families ahead of the precinct captains, county chairmen and big-money donors who flock to Mackinac.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) will be attending an event at his son’s college. Sen. George Allen (Va.), apparently focused on his reelection next year, will be at a football game at Virginia Tech. Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) just sent word that he won’t be there, said the state GOP’s executive director, Saul Anuzis.

Even Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who won Michigan’s 2000 Republican presidential primary and was expected to put on a big show at the conference, may not attend. (Michigan’s GOP national committeeman, Chuck Yob, said McCain is out. Anuzis said the senator is slated to be one of the main speakers. McCain’s communications director, Ilene McMenamin, said the senator was in Alaska and could not be reached for comment.)

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is the only senator most of the Mackinac organizers are optimistic will attend.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has committed to the Sept. 23-25 event. Romney, vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has ties to Michigan. His father was governor of the state in the 1960s.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi doesn’t have Mackinac on his schedule, said his spokesman, Pete Smith, but Anuzis hopes the governor may swing through for a day. Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota also is a “maybe,” Republicans said.

By Peter Savodnik