WASHINGTON - The Democratic National Convention will include former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but party heavyweights such as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Joe Lieberman are nowhere to be seen.
The trio is part of the significant list of Democrats steering clear of Charlotte, N.C., as the president's job approval numbers sag and the economy languishes in a sluggish recovery.
As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who currently is on a six-nation tour of Asia, cannot take part in political activities, but most absentees are missing for other reasons. Lieberman, who endorsed John McCain in 2008 and is now considered an independent, was not invited even though he was the party's nominee for vice president in 2000. Gore simply declined the invitation to attend.
According to recent Gallup research, for the first time since 2000, Republicans are showing more enthusiasm than Democrats in a presidential election year. Democratic candidates in 2008 sought to align themselves with Barack Obama, but with the president's approval rating below 40 percent in 16 states, many now view him as a politically liability.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the state's former governor, spoke in support of Obama at the 2008 convention but announced he would not attend in 2012.
"These first three-and-a-half years haven't been that good to West Virginia," he told the National Journal, adding that he is undecided on who will get his vote for president. Only one-third of West Virginia residents approve of Obama, whom Manchin has often criticized.
Others playing hooky from this year's convention include Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, and Senate candidates Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Richard Carmona of Arizona, all of whom said they were staying in their home states to campaign. A slew of congressional candidates, including at least 19 Democratic House members from all over the country, have reportedly skipped out on the convention.
Two Democratic governors, California's Jerry Brown and West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin, also elected to stay home.
The convention ducking is reminiscent of the Republican scenario in 2008. The GOP's suffering public image four years ago caused some candidates to distance themselves from the party, and months later a wave of Democrats was swept into Congress on the coattails of Obama's presidential victory.
This year, Obama's campaign crowds have been notably smaller than in 2008, causing Democrats to worry that they wouldn't be able to fill the 65,000 seats available at Bank of America Stadium Thursday night for the president's acceptance speech. A slight chance of rain rescued hand-wringing organizers, who drastically downsized the event when they announced Wednesday they would move it indoors to the Time Warner Cable Arena, which is configured to hold 15,000 for the convention.