Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Conventions: From Meaningful to Meaningless

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Party nominating conventions are nothing more than heavily scripted and choreographed TV commercials, Stuart Rothenberg writes. Who can blame politicians for skipping them?

Rarely a day goes by without some journalist noting that another Member of Congress is passing up the very forgettable opportunity of attending his or her party’s convention later this summer.

The list of media outlets to report on this “development” is long and getting longer: the New York Times, CBS News, USA Today, CNN, ABC News, NPR and all of the major Washington, D.C., newspapers, including Roll Call.

Here’s a bulletin: Nobody cares. Or, at least, nobody should care.

These kinds of decisions by officeholders are “news” only if you assume that officeholders are supposed to go to the conventions. In fact, some go and others don’t. And yes, politics is part of the equation.

Politicians often avoid their party’s national conventions, particularly when there is a less-than-popular incumbent president running for re-election. Many West Virginia Democrats would prefer to run local races, so why give their opponents an opportunity to get photographs or video of them in Charlotte with “national” Democrats.

Let’s be completely honest here. Reporters often ask questions of politicians just to see them squirm, and “Why aren’t you going to Charlotte/Tampa?” is just such a question.

If West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) gave the obvious answer — “Are you kidding? President Obama is about as popular as whooping cough in my state. I don’t want to be seen partying with liberals because Republicans could use that against me in my race for re-election” — he’d be the topic du jour on every talk show for a couple of days, and he’d have the White House and high-profile national Democrats pounding on him, much as Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) and former Obama auto czar Steven Rattner did when they defended private equity managers.

So it’s easier for Manchin and others to find other excuses, some of which are also valid.

If you are a candidate, you can probably find a better use of the five days that you’d lose by going to the convention — maybe meet some voters, film some commercials or even recharge your batteries with your friends and family for the final stretch.

Other than the possible opportunity to raise money, conventions are a waste of time for candidates. Actually, they are a waste of time for pretty much everybody, except of course those vendors who are actually making money from the events — the hotels, taxi companies and restaurants and bars where convention attendees gather.

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