Campaign chief to vulnerables: Stay away from GOP convention

Campaign chief to vulnerables: Stay away from GOP convention
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm is telling vulnerable colleagues in tough races to stay away from the GOP presidential convention this summer.

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOvernight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Mobile providers at center of privacy storm The Memo: Trump moves to brink of emergency declaration MORE (R-Miss.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, warns that a fight between supporters of candidates Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' MORE and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGroup aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Howard Dean looking for a 'younger, newer' Democratic nominee in 2020 Congress can stop the war on science MORE at a contested convention in Cleveland is the last place vulnerable Republicans need to be.

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“If there’s going to be a brouhaha, I’m advising candidates to be present for more unifying events,” Wicker told The Hill.

And he’s far from alone in his opinion.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally MORE (R-Ariz.) told reporters on Tuesday that he’s skipping the Republican National Convention for the first time in years.

“I have to campaign for reelection, and I have always done that when I’m up,” the 2008 GOP nominee told reporters.

McCain was up for reelection in the Senate in 2004 and 1992, however, and still found time to speak at the GOP convention in those years. He also spoke at the convention in 2012, 2000, 1996, 1988 and 1984.

The senator acknowledged that it’s possible the party’s eventual standard-bearer could drag down GOP candidates down-ballot such as himself.

“That’s always a concern,” said McCain, who faces a potentially tough race this year against Democratic Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickHispanic Caucus sets red lines on DHS spending bill Dem women rally behind Pelosi Arizona New Members 2019 MORE. He also has to worry about an Aug. 30 primary.

GOP Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDems vow swift action on gun reform next year This week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday MORE of Illinois and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteFive possible successors to Mattis Mattis resigns, says views aren't in line with Trump's Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms MORE of New Hampshire are also planning to skip the convention. Both face tough reelection races.

Kirk’s campaign manager, Kevin Artl, told the Chicago Tribune that his boss “has his own re-election to win, so he will be working hard toward that goal, not going to the Republican convention in Ohio.”

A spokeswoman for Ayotte said she won’t be there either.

A fourth vulnerable Republican, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE of Ohio, said he isn’t sure he’ll be at the convention — which is in his home state.

Portman said he has planned political events in Cleveland and as of now does not plan to participate in floor activities at the Quicken Loans Arena — though he might pop over if he has the time.

“I’m going to have my own thing. We’re bringing volunteers from around the state,” he said. “We’re going to have an event in what’s called Tri-C, which is a community college. It’s near the convention center but outside the perimeter so people can get there.”

He will also help build a Habitat for Humanity house in Cleveland.

Portman’s campaign emphasized it was planning these alternative events long before it was known the presidential race would boil down to Trump and Cruz.

The caution shown by all of the GOP candidates underlines the unusual nature of this year’s Republican convention.

Republicans haven’t held a contested convention since 1976, when President Gerald Ford battled Ronald Reagan for the nomination. Since then, the convention has generally been a piece of theater designed to bolster the party’s nominee.

This year, there are worries of riots or violence if Trump supporters believe the nomination is being unfairly wrested from their favored candidate.

The business mogul, who has assailed the delegate selection process as “corrupt and crooked,” could still win the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nod before Cleveland. If he doesn’t, he’ll head to Ohio with more delegates than Cruz or John Kasich but no guarantee he’ll leave with the crown.

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Kan.), who served as NRSC chairman in the last Congress, said Cleveland could be a “bruising convention.”

“That convention has the capability of people going home with a poor taste in their mouths,” he said. “We may have a nominee before the convention, I don’t know. But in the absence of that happening, tough decisions will have to be made.”

Moran, whose Kansas seat is considered safe Republican territory but was threatened last month with a possible primary challenger, is also staying away from Cleveland.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell: Senate won't override Trump veto on shutdown fight Senate immigration talks fall apart Emergency declaration option for wall tests GOP MORE (R-Mo.), who has a tougher-than-expected reelection bid against Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, says he’s undecided.

“I don’t have any idea. I usually don’t go for very long if I go. I am not a devoted attender of the conventions,” he said, noting he has a primary election in early August. “There’s going to be a lot going on.”

Two vulnerable Republicans running in states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval MORE of Wisconsin, do plan to attend the convention. Both are betting they’ll need to energize their party’s base to win in November.

“Those are my plans, but things could change,” said Johnson.

“I think so,” Toomey said when asked whether he would be present.

“Everyone will make their own decision,” he added when told of Wicker’s advice.

Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Dems zero in on Trump and Russia National security center launches program to help US firms guard against foreign hackers MORE (R-Ind.), who is retiring at the end of the year, said his colleagues are better off staying at home.

“You’re better off being in your own state, running your own race and not being caught up in all the machinations that may take place at the convention,” he said.

“This one is potentially toxic,” he said. “You don’t see too many candidates endorsing anybody for that very reason. You endorse Trump and the Cruz people are mad, you endorse Cruz and the Trump people are mad.”