Political experts say decisions by Paul, Gray to skip national conventions will matter to diehards, not so much everyday voters

07/17/2016 09:22 PM

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and his Democratic opponent, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, won’t be attending their parties’ respective national conventions this year as Republicans and Democrats nominate the two most unpopular presidential candidates in modern history.

But state political observers caution against reading too much into those decisions by Paul, who is among numerous Republicans skipping this week’s festivities in Cleveland, and Gray, who is campaigning in a state that has become increasingly conservative in federal elections.

Paul has said he will hold town hall meetings and perform pro bono eye surgeries this week while Gray said he’s focused on campaigning for U.S. Senate and doing his job as mayor during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25.

“It’s just completely, totally irrelevant whether they go to the convention,” Republican political consultants Ted Jackson said in an interview with Pure Politics on Friday. “… They have a fine argument that they want to campaign, want to be in the state.”

For Gray, some said the Democrat would be better served keeping presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom he has already endorsed, as far at bay as possible.

Jackson called Clinton, whose remarks regarding the coal industry at a CNN town hall in March have dogged her in coal-producing states like Kentucky, “toxic” politically in the state while fellow GOP strategist Scott Jennings said if he were a Democrat seeking office in Kentucky he “wouldn’t be caught in the same state as Hillary Clinton, let alone at a convention.”

“She’s going to be an albatross for Gray and everybody else, so it doesn’t take much political acumen to figure out you shouldn’t go to that,” Jennings told Pure Politics on Friday.

Paul, among 16 presidential contenders bested by Trump in the Republican field, has endorsed the boisterous New York real estate mogul, but he’s one of several members of the GOP who won’t be in Cleveland to watch Trump’s coronation as the party’s standard-bearer this week.

Others who will avoid Cleveland this week include former presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush and former Republican nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Democratic political consultant Dale Emmons, whose son Jamie Emmons is managing Gray’s campaign, offered his opinion that Paul might be experiencing some “lingering animosities” and “disappointment” in his failed bid for the White House.

“Those things are probably the leading reasons he’s not going,” Emmons said in a phone interview Friday. “The other reason may be is just pragmatic in that he’s been gone so much from Kentucky, he’s trying to now make up for that.”

Events like fundraisers would be difficult to shoehorn into already packed schedules for delegates at national conventions.

That’s a primary reason observers say both candidates are better off staying in Kentucky rather than trekking to Cleveland or Philadelphia.

“I’ve never seen much utility for candidates who are in active campaigns in spending a week out of town for a convention,” Jennings said.

“I mean, you’re going to a place that you already know everybody, and unless you’re doing some big media splash, unless you’re doing something that’s going to get you the kind of attention you want back home, what’s the utility? You could spend that week campaigning or raising money or doing things that impact your actual likely voters back in your home state.”

Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe agreed with that line of thought.

“What would he (Paul) do all five days up there? Got to an Indians game?” Briscoe asked during an interview Friday.

“Unless there’s an opportunity to raise a substantial amount of money, there’s no reason for Gray to go,” he added. “If somehow in the back of his mind he thinks not going will disassociate himself with Clinton, he’s whistling ‘Dixie’ because they’re going to associate him with Clinton every day of the fall campaign.”

The Republican National Convention begins on Monday with speakers such as Trump’s wife, Melania Trump; Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst; Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton; Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions; Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson; and actor Scott Baio.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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