Missed Votes Become Campaign Fodder

Posted November 4, 2009 at 6:55pm

The possibility of a Saturday vote on the health care bill in the House isn’t especially enticing to anyone who has to shuffle their weekend plans. But it presents a particular inconvenience for those Members already in the thick of their 2010 campaign schedules.

But Rep. Nathan Deal, who is battling a half-dozen other candidates in Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary, won’t miss the vote.

“Saturday is a big campaign day right now, so we’re adjusting,— campaign spokesman Harris Blackwood said.

Adjusting is something Deal hasn’t done for 118 other votes this year.

Among the 20 House and Senate Members who are forgoing re-election to run for another office, Deal ranks third in the number of votes missed this year. As of the end of October, Deal had missed 14 percent of all votes he was eligible for since the beginning of the 111th Congress, according to Congressional Quarterly research. That total is about 40 votes more than the number of votes missed this year by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is running for governor of Hawaii in 2010.

Deal is far from being the most egregious vote-skipper.His total falls just short Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who is running for Senate in 2010 and has missed 15 percent of votes he has been eligible for in 2009.

But that isn’t even that bad compared to Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), who is running for governor next year and has missed 278 votes in 2009.

That’s a whopping 34 percent of votes that he has been eligible for.

In fact, Barrett’s missed-vote total is the highest of any current Member of Congress except Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who turns 92 later this month and has been ill for part of the year. In 2007 and 2008, Barrett missed 3 percent of his votes. In 2006, he missed just 1 percent.

Calls to Barrett’s Congressional and campaign offices were not returned Wednesday, and when a reporter tried to catch the Congressman during a vote on the House floor Tuesday evening the Congressman could not be found. Barrett attended a South Carolina gubernatorial debate Tuesday night.

Blackwood acknowledged that any roll calls Deal has missed have been related to the gubernatorial campaign but noted that when it comes to “the major votes,— Deal has always been there.

“He has been there for health care, he has been there for cap-and-trade, he has been there for a lot of other major votes. But a lot of votes are resolutions honoring baseball teams and suspensions,— Blackwood said.

For some of those Members seeking other offices, missed votes are starting to become a liability in their campaigns.

In Sestak’s case, his primary opponent, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), has already started a Web site, NoShowJoe.org, that keeps a running tally of the Congressman’s missed votes.

“Sestak wants a promotion to the U.S. Senate. If you missed work 125 times, would you ask for a promotion?— asks the Web site, which was paid for by Specter’s campaign.

Sestak’s campaign spokesman, Jonathon Dworkin, said that not all of the votes that Sestak has missed have been related to his Senate campaign — some, he said, were due to family medical issues.

“The Congressman did miss largely procedural votes. … I know there was a few, like congratulating [University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach] Pat Summitt … on her 1,000th victory, when he was doing his 67-county tour— of Pennsylvania, Dworkin said.

Dworkin argued that the larger issue is “the body of work— that Sestak can show voters versus Specter.

Sestak “is proud of how productive he’s been. … He’s proud of the votes he’s cast,— Dworkin said. “We want to know if Sen. Specter is proud of the 2,000 votes he cast for President Bush— when Specter was a Republican.

This year, Specter has missed less than 5 percent of votes he was eligible for in the Senate, but Dworkin said that math doesn’t take into account the incident in September when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) stopped work on the Senate floor while Specter attended a fundraiser with President Barack Obama.

Other Members are using their high voting attendance records to their advantage on the campaign trail.

Last week, the Senate campaign of Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) sent out a release extolling how Meek “balances— his campaign and Congressional schedules.

Meek had missed just 20 votes as of the end of October, good enough for a 98 percent voting participation record. That total is the same as Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) who is also running for Senate next year.

“Meek kept a busy U.S. Senate campaign schedule in 2009. … He simultaneously maintained a near perfect voting attendance record in Congress while playing an integral role as a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee,— Meek’s campaign wrote in its release.

The campaign also went on to take a shot at Meek’s likely general election opponent, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R).

“As Kendrick continues to show leadership on the campaign trail and in Congress, Governor Crist, according to a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald story has taken off nearly 10 weeks annually,— the release said.

Those Members who are running for another office with even better attendance records than Meek and Tiahrt include Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.), who is running for governor, and Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), who is running for Senate. Both have missed nine votes. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who is running for governor next year, missed just three votes over the same time period.

And then there’s Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), who announced early last month that he’s running for Senate. So far this year, Castle has a perfect voting attendance record.

Asked this week if he could keep up that pace, Castle said he didn’t know. But he did note that he lives a lot closer to Capitol Hill than most of his colleagues.

“I don’t know if I’ll be perfect, but I believe very strongly that we’re elected to office here and one of our responsibilities is to vote,— he said. “I live an hour and 20 minutes away by train, so it’s relatively simple for me to get here. But I don’t intend to let the campaign detract from what I have to do. I’ve still got a job here.—