About a dozen or so Democratic officials have now signaled that they won’t attend their party’s convention this summer — but auditions are now open for a Democrat willing to take the next step into apostasy and headline the convention of the opposite party.
There’s a special notoriety for politicos willing to cross that line, embodied most famously by Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, who delivered a famous stemwinder at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Several moderate Democrats ruled out the step in interviews with BuzzFeed, but one prominent former Obama supporter said he’d consider it.
“I have no plans to attend the convention, but haven’t ruled it out,” said former Alabama Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Artur Davis. Davis said it was a “fair assumption” that he wouldn’t attend the Democratic convention.
Elsewhere, no Democrats who’ve nixed their party’s convention will commit to changing sides.
“The senator told me to call you and tell you that’s a ridiculous question,” said Senator Joe Manchin’s press secretary Emily Bittner. “He’s a proud West Virginian, a proud Democrat, always has been and always will be.”
Manchin caused headaches for President Obama when he wouldn’t commit to endorsing him — or even voting for him — earlier in the spring.
Another West Virginian who’s not going to the Democratic convention, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, won’t go to the Republican one either.
“As Governor Tomblin has said, neither candidate has earned his support,” said Chris Stadelman, Tomblin’s re-election campaign spokesman. “He will not attend the Republican convention.”
The West Virginia Democrats — some running for re-election, all in a territory hostile to the president — were some of the first and most vocal to back out of the Democratic convention. But they’ve been joined by other, more supportive backers of Obama, most recently Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill.
Another prominent moderate, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, said he’d likely attend his party’s convention.
“I haven’t made a decision yet, I think I will be there,” Schweitzer told BuzzFeed in an interview Wednesday. “Some of it depends on the fires,” he said, referring to the wildfires currently burning thousands of acres in Montana.
“I don’t have any reason to believe I won’t be going,” Schweitzer said. “But my first job is for protect every family in Montana.”
Schweitzer said he “hadn’t paid much attention” to reports of Democrats sitting out their convention, calling it “Washington D.C. chatter.”
“I try not to involve myself in that and keep the stink off me,” he said.
Asked if it meant his Democratic colleagues were trying to distance themselves from the president, Schweitzer said “Oh hell, I don’t know if that’s a sign or not.”
Observers believe Davis has the best chance of occupying a Miller-like role this year, if the Romney campaign knows how to use him.
“Artur Davis offers high profile, African American with compelling and positive narrative that could be the surprise of the Rep convention and fall campaign—if only the Romney campaign can recognize his potential to develop and articulate an alternative narrative,” strategist Doug Schoen, a former Clinton pollster who has called for an independent, centrist movement, said in an email.
But no one thinks that Davis, or anyone else, will pull off as showy a reversal as Miller did.
“Not sure any one will do it as frontally as Zell — [the] situation is much different than in ‘04 now, with a Democrat in the White House with a good chance of getting reelected,” said Democratic consultant and former Lieberman aide Dan Gerstein in an email.
“Either way won’t mean anything,” Gerstein said. “The moderates and independents who will decide the election are disgusted with both parties and politics as usual. So partisan dynamics won’t likely move anyone.”