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Endangered Get Pass on Boston

Democratic House leaders have given their most threatened incumbents license to opt out of next week’s convention in Boston, understanding their Members’ re-election is more important than attending the largely ceremonial nominating event.

While the total number of House Democrats staying home remains fluid, 156 of the 206 Caucus members have indicated to leadership they plan to attend all or part of the four-day Democratic National Convention, which begins Monday. Several leadership sources said many of those Members who have said they won’t be going cited their own re-elections as the reason for taking a pass.

“The leader is pleased that so many of our Members are going to the convention, but she also understands that Members should do what they have to do,” said Brendan Daly, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), noting that his boss has indicated as much to Members. “If it’s better for them to go home and raise money and have public events to raise their visibility, then that’s what they should do.”

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) agreed, saying leaders understand “our [threatened] incumbents who have tough races will be exactly where they ought to be — back home.”

Although House Democrats serve as super delegates to the convention, it is not vital all Members attend because Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s presidential nomination is uncontested.

In fact, several well-placed Democratic aides pointed out that for some Members, perhaps, attendance is not even useful because the convention will afford them little opportunity to fundraise or campaign. Those aides also suggested some Members in conservative-leaning districts may feel they are better served by keeping an arm’s length from the national party platform and the Kerry ticket.

But several vulnerable incumbents said this week they made the decision to attend just a portion or none of the convention strictly because of their re-election campaigns and constituent commitments.

Those Members were quick to add that even though they are independent lawmakers, they are not shunning the event nor are they trying to draw a distinction from a national party platform that may be perceived as too liberal for their moderate-to-conservative constituencies.

“I am going home,” said Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), one of the House Democrats most threatened this cycle. “I did this in the 2000 convention as well. There are only so many days in the campaign season.”

Matheson said he wants to spend as much time as he can with his constituents, noting that regardless of the convention it is a challenge to get home given the distance from Washington to Utah.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.), another Member in a marginal district, said he plans to attend only a portion of the convention.

“It’s a matter of not having enough days,” Pomeroy said. “All of us are trying to juggle the needs of our campaign, time with family, the convention and a range of other business. We all want to make time for our districts.”

Pomeroy insisted that these decisions do not reflect their support of Kerry or national party positions, noting that regardless of whether Members go to Boston, Republicans will find ways to attack them. He added, however, that it is important the party reflect moderate-to-conservative Democratic views in its overall platform.

“Our races do depend on us leading from the center,” Pomeroy said.

Rep. Max Sandlin, one of the five Texas Democrats endangered by a new redistricting map in that state, said he “probably won’t be going” even though he’d like to participate in some events, including those sponsored by the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. But, he said, he has to weigh other priorities, such as outstanding “commitments in the campaign.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, the only targeted Lone Star State Democrat heading to Boston is Rep. Charlie Stenholm, who will be honored at an agriculture dinner Tuesday before heading back to Texas for the rest of the week.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) said leaders understand threatened Members know what is needed to ensure their re-elections, but made clear they have not pushed lawmakers to skip the convention. It’s a different situation for the Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents (who are not super delegates), who leaders have told to spend the week fundraising and campaigning, he said.

“If [Members] feel they should or should not go, that’s up to them,” he said. “We’re not urging them not to come. Obviously it’s a time for a celebration of our presidential candidate, but it’s really up to individual Members.”

Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.), who isn’t facing a tough re-election bid this cycle and is going to Boston, said Caucus members understand and respect their colleagues’ decisions to head to their districts. He said he’s fortunate because his district is close to Washington and he can see his constituents often, while other Members don’t have that luxury.

“Most of it is common sense,” he said. “We need to be close to the voters and connect with the voters, and the time we have for that is not great.”

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