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Reps. Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul Have Truancy Problems

In Bids for Presidency, Lawmakers Tally High Total of Missed Votes

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Michele Bachmann has voted 54 percent of the time since announcing her presidential bid June 13 — missing 150 votes.

Since announcing their respective presidential bids, GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Ron Paul (Texas) have had a truancy problem in the House, where they still represent about 600,000 people each.

But it's Bachmann who might have some explaining to do to her constituents in Minnesota's 6th district; she has voted only 54 percent of the time since announcing her presidential bid June 13 missing 150 votes and every vote during the month of September, according to data compiled by Congressional Quarterly.

It is common for presidential candidates who also serve in Congress to miss a lot of votes. President Barack Obama missed more than 40 percent of Senate votes during a similar point in his campaign, for example.

Bachmann is notable particularly because she has missed significantly more House votes than Paul, another second-tier presidential candidate with a similarly small but enthusiastic base of supporters.

Only Reps. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have participated in fewer votes. Boehner doesn't vote because Speakers typically don't, Hinchey was recovering from surgery for cancer, and Giffords has voted only once since she was she was shot
Jan. 8 in Arizona.

Paul, who announced his candidacy a month before Bachmann, has participated in 84 percent of House roll-call votes, according to CQ. Eight Members have worse records than him during that period; ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is one of them.

Bachmann's campaign has been in free fall in the polls since peaking around the middle of July. She won the Ames straw poll in mid-August, narrowly besting Paul. In a recent Fox News poll, Paul drew
6 percent support, while Bachmann posted only 3 percent. According to that poll, both candidates have lost ground since mid-August, with Bachmann slipping 5 points and Paul slipping 2.

The gap in voting attendance is also notable because Paul has announced he is retiring from the House at the end of the 112th Congress and presumably doesn't need to worry about his absenteeism. Bachmann, on the other hand, has left the door open to running for re-election should her presidential bid end.

The last time Bachmann voted was Aug. 1 a "no" vote on the debt ceiling deal. It was around the peak of her support when Bachmann stopped voting almost altogether.

By missing votes, Bachmann might have missed opportunities to highlight her "leadership" in Congress, which she has touted on the campaign trail. Alternatively, the votes could also have opened up political liabilities, sources said.

One Republican strategist with Capitol Hill and presidential campaign experience said whether candidates show up to vote is generally inconsequential, although particular votes can help them frame their campaign message.

High-profile votes like on the bill to raise the debt ceiling can become the prism through which voters view the candidates and determine support for a campaign. They can also be used to demonstrate leadership on major issues. However, opponents can use them to create political vulnerability.

Ultimately, because Bachmann and Paul are long shots for the nomination, their attendance for Congressional votes is especially irrelevant, this GOP strategist argued.

"Presidential campaigns are a much bigger stage than a House or Senate floor vote," the strategist said. "If I'm faced with the choice of using a vote in Congress to make my case or $5 million in ads in early primary states to make my case, it's not even close. I'd take the latter."

Bachmann, unlike Paul, does not post a schedule of her campaign events on her website, making it difficult to track her campaign schedule in relation to her missed votes. Bachmann's campaign did not respond to several requests for comment, but the Congresswoman's spokesman told Minnesota Public Radio earlier this week that Bachmann is not apologetic about her missed votes.

"By continuing to lead the fight against the president's job-destroying policies, Congresswoman Bachmann is serving not only her constituents, but countless more Americans," Bachmann spokeswoman Becky Rogness said.

When Bachmann has returned to Washington recently, it has not been to vote. Bachmann came to D.C. the evening of Sept. 8 for President Barack Obama's jobs speech to a joint session of Congress. At a press conference "rebuttal" in a House television studio 45 minutes after the speech, Bachmann said her flight was delayed by inclement weather, preventing her from attending the speech.

The next morning, the House passed an intelligence authorization bill, setting the 2012 budget for the nation's intelligence agencies. But Bachmann, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, had already left town. She had no public campaign events that day but did a television interview on CNN from Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

Paul spokesman Jesse Benton said that while "the campaign is his priority," Paul is doing his "absolute best" to attend votes, weighing campaign events against House votes on an "individual basis."

A close look at Paul's voting record, however, shows some irregularities.

For instance, on Sept. 21, Paul began his day in D.C. at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, where he made news by saying he'd consider putting liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in his Cabinet if elected.

His next scheduled campaign event was not until the next day at 3 p.m. in Orlando, Fla., according to a detailed calendar on his campaign website, but Paul did not manage to attend any of the House votes that day. Paul missed a crucial vote on the short-term continuing resolution spending bill that was defeated at 5:43 p.m. that day on the House floor.

Benton did not respond to questions about why Paul missed specific votes.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who voted a relatively high 87 percent of the time during his short-lived presidential bid, could face re-election difficulties from voters back home now that he's abandoned his aspirations for higher office. McCotter announced his presidential bid July 2 and dropped out Sept. 22.

Jason Roe, a Republican consultant who is supporting Michigan state Sen. Mike Kowall in his primary bid against McCotter, said it wasn't the missed votes that will hurt McCotter because his participation was in line with average Members'. "Thad's problem is it created an opening" for Kowall to enter the race, Roe said.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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