Congressman Ben Chandler is joining a handful of prominent Democrats who will skip their party's national convention this year. Chandler, who represents the Sixth Congressional District in Central Kentucky, is facing Republican Andy Barr in his re-election bid.
The matchup is a repeat of the 2010 race in which Chandler beat Barr by fewer than 700 votes. Other Democrats skipping the convention have been criticized for distancing themselves from President Barack Obama, who will be formally nominated for re-election at the event. But Chandler's campaign insists the decision isn't political.
“We have a full schedule and that’s what we’re going to stick to. We’re going to be in the district. That’s the Congressman’s job, is to represent his constituents and since Congress is not in session during that time he will be in Kentucky,” says campaign manager Eric Nagy.
In a statement, Barr blasted Chandler's decision.
"Yesterday Ben Chandler voted to save ObamaCare: Today, he runs from President Obama and his convention. But try as he might Ben Chandler can't hide from his record of supporting President Obama 80 percent of the time and Kentuckians won't be fooled," he said.
Chandler was one of the first Kentucky Democrats to endorse President Obama in 2008, but his support for the president's has been lukewarm. He voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but voted against repealing it earlier this week.
Despite Chandler's absence, other notable Kentucky Democrats are attending the DNC, including Third District Congressman John Yarmuth and Governor Steve Beshear. Beshear has been outspoken in his opposition to the president's environmental policies.
Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson also criticized Chandler's decision, saying the congressman needs to fully explain his reasons for skipping the convention.
"It's really important for Chandler to come out and tell Kentuckians why he's not going," he says. "Tell Kentuckians that Barack Obama is bad for our state. It's not good enough for Ben Chandler to just take a pass. It's not good enough. He needs to tell Kentuckians why and he needs to make sure Kentuckians understand, does he support this president or does he not. He can't have it both ways."
The Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina the week of September 3. Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia have also decided to forgo the event.
Nagy says he has not heard from Chandler that the congressman doesn't support President Obama's re-election. But he says it's a question to ask Congressman Chandler himself.
According to DNC rules, all members of congress and governors (formerly called superdelegates) are invited to the convention. Republicans must ask to attend their party's convention. Every GOP member of Kentucky's federal delegation who requested to attend the RNC will do so, according to Robinson. That includes U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and Congressmen Ed Whitfield, Brett Guthrie and Hal Rogers.
Retiring Congressman Geoff Davis did not ask to be a delegate, Robertson says. But Barr did and will attend.
Senate candidate George Allen of Virginia is the highest-profile Republican to announce that he won't attend the RNC.