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 Wicker (R-Miss.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, warns that a fight between supporters of candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz at a contested convention in Cleveland is the last place vulnerable Republicans need to be.

{mosads}“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 McCain (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 Kirkpatrick. He also has to worry about an Aug. 30 primary.

GOP Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte 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 Portman 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 Moran (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 Blunt (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 Johnson 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 Coats (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.”

Tags Ann Kirkpatrick Dan Coats Donald Trump GOP convention Jerry Moran John McCain Kelly Ayotte Mark Kirk Rob Portman Roger Wicker Ron Johnson Roy Blunt Ted Cruz

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