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Congress Snubbed as Governors Take Top Speech Time Slots

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, speaks at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Florida on Aug. 28, 2012. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Television viewers watching the Republican National Convention will see plenty of balloons, delegates and governors. What they won’t see are many members of Congress.

With Congress’s approval rating nearing the single digits, party leaders are limiting exposure of their most unpopular members while presidential nominee Mitt Romney is trying to close a favorability gap with President Barack Obama, according to congressional and presidential experts.

The reduced speech schedule also is the product of the cancellation of the Aug. 27 convention events because of Hurricane Isaac.

The upshot: Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who will introduce Romney before the candidate gives his acceptance speech tomorrow, became the only member of Congress not on the presidential ticket scheduled to speak during the national networks’ convention broadcasts.

“It’s ‘keep the crazy uncle in the attic,’” said Ross Baker, a professor of American politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. According to an Aug. 9-12 Gallup poll, Congress’s approval rating stands at 10 percent compared with 83 percent who disapprove of the job members are doing.

Skipping the Convention

Another reason for the dearth of House and Senate speakers is that many opted to skip the convention. According to a list of House Republicans planning to attend before the first day’s schedule was canceled, a third of the caucus opted not to come.

Still, Allan Lichtman, professor of political history at American University in Washington, said it’s “unusual for them to be shut out entirely of prime time the way it is here.”

Guy Harrison, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters Aug. 27 that House members don’t feel snubbed, particularly with Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, running as the vice presidential nominee.

“We have a House candidate as our vice president; I think that shows you a pretty good idea of how House Republicans are going to be involved in this presidential race,” Harrison said. “We take a lot of pride in Paul Ryan and we think he’s going to be able to carry a good message for the House Republicans.”

During an Aug. 27 Christian Science Monitor luncheon with reporters, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio sought to play down the lack of national face time for his party’s members and recruits.

Less Time

“You cut the convention from four days to three days, there’s just not as much time and so there are a lot of people who’ve been cut out of the schedule,” Boehner said.

Still, it’s “kind of curious” for Romney’s party to be “hiding the House Republicans” because “their entire economic plan is based on the House Republican budget,” Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, the panel’s top Democrat, said today. He said the budget “has become the Tea Party manifesto.”

“So they may be hiding Republican members of Congress, but their plan is in plain sight and Americans need to focus on the consequences of that for our families and our future,” said Van Hollen, who traveled to Tampa to offer his perspective on Ryan’s record.

The Tea Party Express, a major Tea Party political action committee and one that helped usher in 87 House freshmen in the 2010 midterm election, heralded the speaker roster by highlighting governors it supported.

In a statement, Tea Party Express Chief Strategist Sal Russo said the movement’s “success is in full display this week.” He cited prime-time speakers including Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Chris Christie of New Jersey. The statement didn’t mention any House members.

More Governors

The Republicans’ decision to feature more governors than members of Congress is also partly driven by the party’s anti-government and anti-Washington culture, said Baker.

“It also indicates a tendency by the Republicans to distance themselves from government, from Washington,” he said.

Florida Representative Connie Mack, who will be able to showcase his U.S. Senate candidacy tomorrow soon after the evening session begins at 7 p.m., disputed the notion that Congress members even belong at center stage.

“This isn’t a convention about the Congress,” he said at a Bloomberg policy lunch yesterday. “This is a convention about Mitt Romney and his campaign and how to move this country forward.”

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