Any way you measure it, McCain's performance in the Senate during the last year has been abysmal. He has missed 400 votes, far more than any other Senator (including Tim Johnson, who's recuperating from a brain hemorrhage). In May Ronald Hansen of the Arizona Republic referred to "his chronic absence in the Senate" as if the problem is well known in McCain's home state. Earlier this month he was the only Senator to skip the vote on the Medicare bill. At the time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid publicly criticized McCain for his regular absences.
Here are some numbers:
- 63% - How many votes in the Senate McCain has skipped during the 110th Congress (since January 2007).
- 96 - The number of Senate votes McCain has missed since his last recorded vote on April 8.
- 111 - The number of days since McCain last attended a committee hearing (of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on April 9).
- 25% - How many full SASC hearings McCain has attended during the 110th Congress.
- 89% - How many full SASC hearings McCain has skipped since April 2007 (32 out of the last 36 hearings).
- 2007 - The last year in which McCain attended any Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee hearings or subcommittee hearings.
The League of Conservation Voters noted in February that McCain has skipped every one of the 15 Senate votes on environmental issues that it deemed critical during this Congress.
McCain has so far abandoned his duties in the Senate that when he traveled to Colombia and Mexico 4 weeks ago to discuss trade and commerce, he felt obliged to treat it as a campaign rather than a congressional trip. Did I mention that he serves on the Senate Commerce Committee?
It's normal for Senators campaigning for president to spend a lot of time away from the Senate, of course. Barack Obama has been on the road too and missed 20 votes in the Senate since July 9 (many related to a single bill, S. 2731). Yet throughout the campaign Obama generally has not been absent from the Senate for any more than a couple weeks at a time.
Quite extraordinarily, however, McCain has all but checked out of his Senate job for all of 2008 and indeed for most of 2007 as well. This comes at a time when the country is facing both domestic and foreign crises that two of McCain's committees have needed to act on.
For example, McCain skipped hearings on 'Improving Consumer Protections in Subprime Lending' (April 29, Interstate Commerce subcommittee) and 'Protecting our Shores from Oil Spills' (March 4, Surface Transportation subcommittee). This although McCain admits that subprime mortgages are in crisis and although he is pushing for unlimited off-shore drilling. His near total absence from the Senate Armed Services Committee for more than a year (aside from 4 high profile hearings) certainly calls into question McCain's seriousness on his signature issues of Iraq and Afghanistan.
McCain's record is so bad that when I called his Senate Office yesterday to ask when was the last Commerce Committee hearing he had attended, his staffer replied that he didn't know and immediately transfered me to the Capitol Hill Operator. She didn't know either.
Not convinced yet that McCain has fallen down on the job? Take a tour of his Senate website, which appears to be virtually moribund (in stark contrast to his presidential website). For example, his Senate bio looks like it hasn't been updated in quite some time; it neglects to mention that he's running for president in 2008.
It gets worse. His Senate page for "recent" Speeches has his last linked speech in Sept. 2007. His page for "recent" Floor Statements has only a single link since 2005. His page for "recent" Interviews has only a single link since 2003.
The issues pages are out of date as well. For example, McCain serves on the Indian Affairs Committee. The latest press release on his Indian Affairs issues page dates from Jan. 2007.
A visitor to McCain's Senate website might easily come to the conclusion that it had gone dormant some time ago.
Not surprisingly, then, the voters in Arizona seem to be less than enamored with their senior Senator. In the AZ Republican primary on Feb. 5, McCain managed to get only 47% of the vote. The June Rasmussen poll for AZ put McCain's support at only 49%, an 8 point drop since April and a mere 9 point lead over Obama. The poll found that only 21% of Arizonans had a 'very favorable' opinion of McCain (less than Obama's 28%). As this chart from Pollster.com shows, McCain's numbers have been trending downward in Arizona since the start of 2007, while he's been absent on campaign.
Relatively few journalists have figured out what bloggers have been discussing for some time, that Arizona may be competitive in the presidential election. The state's population has grown rapidly, Democratic registrations are way up since 2006 and Republican numbers are down. Meanwhile Democratic-leaning Independents are also registering in large numbers.
"My research shows that in Arizona, the new independent is a different type of person from seven years ago," said Mr. Merrill, the polling expert. "That voter was more libertarian, more get-government-out-of-my-life. The new independents, which went heavily Democratic in the last election, are much younger, better educated and overwhelmingly antiwar."
AZ already is competitive in the fundraising race. Though it was overlooked by the national media, Ronald Hansen reported last week that Obama apparently outraised McCain in AZ in June by a substantial margin. Even more importantly, Obama's average donation was less than half the size of McCain's - meaning that he has an energized and larger base of small donors in McCain's home state.
Obama reported $432,000 in donations from Arizonans in June, compared with McCain's $313,000, based on an Arizona Republic analysis of Federal Election Commission records. Neither campaign properly codes all contributions with a state, making it impossible to know exactly where all donations came from.
Since last year, McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, has raised at least $4.7 million from his fellow Arizonans, double what Obama reports from the state. But donations this year are nearly even: McCain's Arizona donors have given him $2 million. Obama's Arizona donors have given him just $66,000 less.
As recently as May, AZ Republican leaders were scoffing at the idea that McCain could lose his own state. But on July 13 McCain was telling campaign workers in Phoenix, "We're going to have to work hard...here in the state of Arizona". No getting around it, a collapse of this sort is nearly unprecedented. McCain is in trouble with his constituents for a variety of causes. Even if most of the large newspapers in the state are going easy on McCain, I'm told by bloggers in Arizona that letters to the editor show that voters are aware how poorly he is representing the state.
Ridiculous stunts calculated to attract media attention have been a staple of McCain's campaign for weeks. On Saturday he outdid himself, though, taking to the airwaves to lament plaintively that he's being ignored by reporters.
I'm starting to feel a little left out.
Here's a modest proposal: Why doesn't he show up in Washington DC sometime this summer? I hear there are a lot of reporters there.