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'Missed Votes' Charge Could Backfire

Lately many critics have been making sport of tracking all the Senate votes John McCain has missed while he's been out on the campaign trail. Just last Tuesday, Capitol Briefing had an imaginary party at his desk, complete with a fake cake (it was delicious), to mark the three-month anniversary of the last time McCain actually showed up in the Senate to vote. He's missed 81 consecutive votes since April 8th.

Senate Democratic leaders have been particularly critical in recent days. Last Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lashed out at McCain for missing roll calls on surveillance and Medicare legislation, while Sen. Barack Obama showed up for both.

"Senator Obama has come to work and taken tough stands. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Senator McCain," Reid said. "Perhaps taking tough stands on important issues is not part of Senator McCain's campaign strategy. Perhaps he's just too busy on the campaign trail to do his day job." And Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) struck a similar note the day before.

With those key votes on surveillance and Medicare on the schedule, it probably made sense for Democratic leaders to use last week to paint a contrast between their nominee and the GOP's. But Democrats might want to be careful not too push this theme too far.

Despite Obama's heroic decision to perform his day job last week, his voting record hasn't been all that great either. Yes, McCain leads the Senate in missed votes by a wide margin, but Obama is right there in 3rd place on that list. Before returning briefly last week for a few tallies, Obama had missed 17 consecutive votes himself. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Obama is going to miss a vote on some high-profile issue and Republicans can easily cut-and-paste Reid's words and throw them right back at Democrats.

Of course, no one expects senatorial presidential candidates to make every vote. The top-ranks of absentees in the chamber is full of White House hopefuls from both sides of the aisle. And Democrats say that Obama will always be there when the math dictates his vote is really needed (as on last week's Medicare vote) or when the issue is particularly important (as on the surveillance vote, which wasn't actually close).

But if Obama fails to show up for weeks at a time, as he did in June, what does that say about Democrats' floor agenda? If he can skip 15 or 20 votes in a row without missing anything "important," does that mean the Senate is just treading water and avoiding the tough issues? Don't be surprised to hear Republicans ask those same questions the next time McCain gets pilloried for his voting record.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 14, 2008; 10:55 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Dem. Leaders , Senate  
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