Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt hasn’t missed a Republican convention in 16 years, but this year he’s not going.
Blunt and several of his fellow Senate Republicans have said they’re skipping the July convention in Cleveland because they’re staying in their home states to campaign for re-election.
But there may be another reason: They might not want to be too closely associated with their party’s unpredictable nominee, Donald Trump.
Republicans had faced the prospect of a contested convention in Cleveland. Now, with both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the picture, Trump’s path to the nomination is clear.
“I can totally see a Trump nomination putting some traditionally Republican states back in play,” said Michael Smith, an associate professor of political science at Emporia State University in Kansas.
It isn’t unusual for lawmakers to forgo party conventions when they’re up for re-election. Sen. Claire McCaskill had a tough re-election in 2012 and skipped the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. Ultimately, she won, though President Barack Obama lost to Mitt Romney in Missouri.
Blunt and other Republicans in tight races in 2016 find themselves defending their seats and keeping their distance from their party’s standard bearer.
“It’s a real tightrope to walk, frankly, for anyone who’s on the ballot this year,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant in California.
In 2012, McCaskill was one of four Senate Democrats to stay away from the party’s nominating convention. Blunt is at least the eighth Senate Republican who’s likely to stay away from this year’s convention.
The Cleveland no-shows include Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also aren’t going or are leaning against it.
“I’m more valuable outside of Cleveland than inside of Cleveland,” Burr told CNN last month. His spokeswoman, Becca Watkins, said Wednesday that Burr is still working on his schedule.
James Harris, a Republican political consultant in Missouri, said there’s no reason for Blunt to attend the convention, which falls ahead of Missouri’s August primary. Harris noted that Blunt’s son, Matt, did the same thing when he was running for governor in 2004.
“It’s a week before the primary, and that week is better spent in-state with his constituents,” Harris said. “It is smart for Senator Blunt to be in Missouri, as opposed to Cleveland.”
Blunt’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans have more to lose this year. Democrats need to win only five seats to regain a Senate majority, and several states are competitive or could be, including Missouri.
Democrats, meanwhile, will be eager to remind voters in Missouri and elsewhere of the controversial things Trump has said about women, immigrants, minorities and his former Republican rivals.
“Voters won’t be fooled,” said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Just because you don’t show up to the convention doesn’t mean you won’t be tied to the front-runner.”
The stakes are high for Blunt, elected to the Senate in 2010 and vice-chairman of the Republican conference. Jason Kander, the Democratic Missouri secretary of state, is a strong challenger, political observers say.
“Jason Kander is a real opponent,” Smith said. “The guy knows how to raise money.”
As of March 31, Blunt had raised about $10.2 million, coming very close to the $11.9 million he raised in 2010, when he beat then-Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Kander had raised $4.5 million as of March 31.
While Blunt has hedged on his support for Trump, Kander has wholeheartedly embraced his party’s likely nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Campaigning in Missouri on Tuesday, Kander said he’s going to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
“There are Missourians who are delegates to the convention,” Kander said, “and I’m going to go and support them.”
To be sure, not all prominent Republicans have decided to forgo their role in Cleveland.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, a onetime presidential candidate, will serve as delegates to the convention from Kentucky.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate leader, told reporters last month that he’s going.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told CNN last month that Republican members should go.
“If you were planning on going to the convention, you should go,” Ryan said.
They got the opposite advice from Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“If there’s going to be a brouhaha,” he told The Hill newspaper last month, “I’m advising candidates to be present for more unifying events.”
With 10 weeks to go before the July 18 convention, Trump has only a dozen endorsements from Capitol Hill: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., plus 11 in the House of Representatives. He’s also backed by only three of the 50 governors.
Stutzman said many lawmakers will wind up sitting out the convention.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you have a majority of the House delegation that chooses to not attend,” he said.
Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star contributed to this story from Pleasant Valley, Mo.
Not in Cleveland
Senate Republicans who are likely to skip the convention
Kelly Ayotte, N.H.
Roy Blunt, Mo.
Richard Burr, N.C.
Ron Johnson, Wis.
Mark Kirk, Ill.
John McCain, Ariz.
Jerry Moran, Kan.
Lisa Murkowski, Alaska