WASHINGTON – Sarah Palin and George W. Bush won’t be in Tampa, Fla. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore won’t make the trip to Charlotte, N.C. And scores of other Republican and Democratic stars are taking a pass as their parties gather for this year’s national conventions.
The reasons are varied – and often, of course, political.
In some cases, high-wattage politicians weren’t invited to have speaking roles. Advisers to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are selecting people to stand on the podiums who most fit the message each candidate will try to send. And who won’t steal the spotlight. Other party rock stars are choosing to be on the sidelines because they’re in hard-fought campaigns of their own.
One of the biggest names in the Democratic Party – Secretary of State Clinton – isn’t allowed to attend under the law. But her husband, the former president, will be a featured speaker.
Final preparations are under way for both conventions. Republicans will gather Aug. 27 to 30 in Florida, where Romney will officially accept the GOP nomination. Democrats convene Sept. 4 to 6 in North Carolina, where Obama will get the party nod for a second time.
Planners are announcing speakers daily, and plenty of each party’s most popular figures will be showcased.
Romney has chosen New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to deliver the Republicans’ keynote address, a coveted speaking slot that often has served as a launching pad for up-and-coming politicians. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, also will have a role, as will South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a rising star in the party, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
A week later, former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will be on hand for the Democrats, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will deliver their keynote address, a first for a Hispanic.
Behind the scenes, there’s always intense debate about who should be featured at what are essentially televised partisan pep rallies. Planners pay close attention to the message sent by having a particular person speak in a prime slot – or not.
By design, all but one of Romney’s campaign rivals for the Republican nomination have been denied speaking roles. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania will speak. He is considered a hero among social conservatives who have long viewed Romney skeptically.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will, instead, teach seminars that Romney’s team calls “Newt University” with Callista Gingrich nearby. Other former Romney rivals – tea party favorites Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, pizza mogul Herman Cain and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas – are noticeably absent from the speakers’ roster.
Palin – a major star on the right – says she doesn’t want to bother, but it’s also possible that Romney’s team didn’t extend an invite to her, given that she could overshadow this year’s GOP ticket.
“This year is a good opportunity for other voices to speak at the convention and I’m excited to hear them,” said Palin, McCain’s running mate in 2008.
Most of the Bush clan – including Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – will skip the trip to Tampa. So will former Vice President Dick Cheney. The younger Bush largely has stayed out of politics since leaving office, although both his father and Cheney have continued to be active.
That said, Romney’s team may well have been leery of helping Democrats who would like to link Romney to policies of the past.
Among Democrats, the woman many who gather in Charlotte simply call “Hillary” will miss her first Democratic convention since 1968. As secretary of state, she’s prohibited from attending. Besides, she will be in Russia and China during this year’s festivities, attending a meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Council.
Former President Bill Clinton will have a prime speaking slot. But his vice president, Gore, is taking a pass, a dozen years after losing the 2000 presidential race to George W. Bush.
Vulnerable Senate candidates – among them Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana – are staying away, and Democratic leaders in Washington have urged House candidates to skip the conventions and spend the week in their states trying to win votes the first week of September.
“If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts,” Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said recently.
Left unsaid is the very real fear among moderate Democrats in political trouble that attending the same event as Obama, who Republicans castigate as a big-government liberal – could drag them down even further.
Some Republicans in tough races also are trying to keep some distance between themselves and the national gathering, mindful that ties to the party establishment can be a political liability in some places.
Among the GOP Senate hopefuls who plan to stay away from Tampa: Heather Wilson from New Mexico, George Allen from Virginia and Linda McMahon from Connecticut.