Key GOP senator won't attend party's convention

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina won't be attending the Republican national convention, which begins over Labor Day weekend.

Her spokeswoman, Katie Hallaway, said people shouldn't read too much into the decision — either about the senator's support for John McCain, her party's likely nominee, or about how she views the security of her re-election in November against Democratic state senator Kay Hagan.

"She's got a busy week scheduled in North Carolina," Hallaway said. "When there are breaks in the Senate schedule, she spends as much time as possible in North Carolina."

Dole will be visiting with businesses, organizations and other constituent groups, but Hallaway said the schedule is not yet finalized.

Her absence from the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., is a notable one. Dole is a bona-fide GOP rock star, the type of speaker who could rally the faithful at the daily state delegation breakfasts.

In addition, she's a former presidential candidate herself, running briefly in 2000, and the wife of popular former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who was the party's standard bearer in 1996. The co-chair of the GOP platform committee is her fellow North Carolina senator, Richard Burr.

Elizabeth Dole had a prime-time television speaking role at the last GOP convention in New York City, where she praised President Bush and talked in support of traditional marriage, freedom of religion and the sanctity of life.

Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens, who's facing a tough re-election battle, also won't drop in on the St. Paul convention. His spokesman, Aaron Saunders, said that he prefers to use the August recess to "travel around the state and meet with constituents." Stevens' daughter also is getting married the last weekend of August.

Two other GOP senators have decided not to attend the convention, according to The National Journal: Maine's Susan Collins and Colorado's Wayne Allard. Collins also has a tough re-election campaigns and Allard is retiring.

The National Journal also reported that three senators haven't decided yet if they'll attend: Roger Wicker of Mississippi, John Sununu of New Hampshire, and Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Wicker's campaign spokesman told McClatchy that the senator hasn't set his schedule yet, but is likely to attend at least some of the convention.

"We're still working on his schedule," said Ryan Annison.

Wicker was appointed Dec. 31, 2007, to the Senate and is in a close race against former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove for election to the seat. "He has a vested interest in staying in Mississippi," said Annison.

Asked if the race was unexpectedly close, Annison said, "For a Republican to win statewide in Mississippi is always a battle." Mississippi's governor and its other U.S. senator also are Republicans.

Maria Recio and Erika Bolstad contributed to this report.