The presidential race may be topic A, B and C in Washington these days, but some people are just too busy to think about it — particularly, it seems, centrist Democrats from conservative districts, who aren’t exactly eager to align themselves with Sen. Barack Obama.
Rep. Travis Childers, elected just weeks ago in a Mississippi special election, hasn’t endorsed anyone in the presidential race yet. “We have had our head down at work, trying to get our feet on the ground up here,” said Childers’ chief of staff, Brad Morris. “The presidential politics just has not been on our mind.”
Rep. Heath Shuler, a freshman Democrat from right-leaning North Carolina, has also been too busy to endorse. After Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton carried his district in the North Carolina primary, Shuler said he would cast his superdelegate vote for her at the Democratic convention.
Now that Clinton is out of the race? “We’ve gone back to his work up there in the House,” said Shuler spokesman Andrew Whalen. “We’re not really too focused on the presidential [race].”
Centrist Democrats aren’t the only ones cautious about embracing their party’s presumptive nominee. Neither Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) nor Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has endorsed Sen. John McCain, and a lot of GOP members will spend the fall trying to put distance between themselves and President Bush.
But with the media focused for a moment on Democratic defections — Rep. Dan Boren, a Democrat from a conservative Oklahoma district, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he won’t be endorsing Obama — the GOP is enjoying the show.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said that Democrats who don’t endorse Obama “wrongly believe that by disassociating themselves from Obama that they can escape any criticism or comparison in terms of their liberal positions on issues like their shared support for government-run health care and massive tax hikes.”
The NRCC identified five such Democrats in a statement distributed Tuesday.
One of them, Kansas Rep. Nancy Boyda, has since decided to endorse Obama. Another, Ohio Rep. Charlie Wilson, had done so a few days before the statement went out — which is to say, only after Clinton announced that she was suspending her campaign.
Responding to the news of Boren’s non-endorsement, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor noted in an e-mail that “Obama has a long history of working across the aisle to get things done and ... he’s worked with some of the most conservative members — including Congressman Boren’s Republican colleague from Oklahoma, [Sen.] Tom Coburn.”
“Obviously this primary process was long and highly competitive, but we’re confident that the party will come together to beat John McCain,” he added.
But Boren isn’t the only congressional Democrat who won’t be endorsing Obama.
A spokesman for Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.) told Politico on Thursday that Mahoney will remain neutral. So will Rep. Jim Marshall, a Democrat in a conservative Georgia district. Marshall didn’t endorse Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, and he won’t endorse anyone this year, either. “Jim, as a rule, doesn’t get involved in other people’s campaigns,” said spokesman Doug Moore.
Louisiana Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon has yet to endorse Obama. Until Thursday, neither had newly elected Louisiana Rep. Don Cazayoux. “Since coming to office, it has been Rep. Cazayoux’s position to let the presidential primary process play out, which it has,” said Cazayoux spokesman Lewis Lowe. “Now that Sen. Obama is the presumptive nominee, Rep. Cazayoux looks forward to working with him to improve the economy and increase access to quality ealth care for all Americans.”
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a longtime Obama backer, said that he harbors no ill will for Democrats who stay on the sidelines.
“People’s responsibility, first and foremost, is to get reelected,” Davis said.
“I defer to any member’s judgment on what they need to do,” he added. “They’re all loyal Democrats who vote with Democrats on a range of issues.”