WASHINGTON – Never before in American history have so many U.S. senators run for the presidency at once and never before have the exertions of a presidential campaign taken such a toll on Capitol Hill attendance.
With the exception of Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who somehow has found a balance point between Senate duties and front-runner status that has eluded her contemporaries, the hunt for the White House has turned U.S. senators into big-time truants.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, for example, has missed 149 of the 310 roll call votes held this year, an absenteeism rate of 48.1 percent -- the highest of any senator seeking the presidency.
A FOX News analysis shows McCain missed votes on final passage of key legislation, including the new terrorism surveillance program, the bill implementing the remaining 9/11 commission recommendations, the homeland security spending bill, increased federal aid for college loans and tuition, the energy bill, a no confidence vote in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and legislation to increase the bounty on Usama bin Laden from $25 million to $50 million.
McCain's campaign declined to explain why McCain missed so many votes dealing with national security, but national campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said McCain is committed to his duties in the Senate and representing Arizona residents.
"As primaries approach and the demands of the campaign increase, votes will have to be missed, but the senator has a policy of returning for important debates where his vote will affect the outcome of the legislation," Hazelbaker said.
McCain had been more visible in the Senate before the August recess and led the charge against bipartisan efforts -- fueled primarily by Democrats -- to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq this year and remove most combat forces by the end of April. It was unusual to see McCain occupy so much floor time during the heated mid-July debate as he'd been virtually invisible from Senate action for much of the year. McCain's presence, though, owed as much to his determination to thwart efforts to rapidly remove U.S. troops from Iraq as to his campaign's inability to finance extensive travel.
In one episode, McCain famously snapped at fellow Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the final hours leading up to the final failure of ill-fated immigration reform after Cornyn questioned McCain's commitment to the fine points of the legislation since he had spent so much time on the campaign trail. McCain's verbal diatribe against Cornyn, a genial Texan, peppered with at least one use of the F-word, became a fresh Capitol Hill example of McCain's legendary and profane temper.
Another Republican, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, has also missed a significant number of floor votes -- 123 of the 310 cast. Among Brownback's missed key votes: the Sept. 11 security bill, the homeland security spending bill, the college tuition bill, the energy bill, the no confidence vote in Gonzales and the emergency spending bill financing the Iraq war.
"I am concerned about the votes that I have missed. I missed a number of votes while I was in Iraq assessing the War on Terror. I also missed votes when I was in Greensburg, Kansas, surveying the tornado damage. And I've missed votes due to campaign events," Brownback told FOX News. "It is difficult to balance being in the Senate with being on the campaign trail, but I will continue to work hard to find balance and represent Kansas to the best of my ability."
Like McCain, the Brownback camp says many votes were skipped when Brownback's absence or presence wouldn't have affected the outcome. "He has made a point to drop what he is doing and get back for votes when they are close or his vote is absolutely needed, but has missed several where it wasn't close his absence was equal on the books as a no vote if present," said Brownback spokesman Brian Hart.
Among the six senators seeking the presidency, Clinton's attendance record appears positively radiant. Clinton's missed only 11 of 310 votes or 3.5 percent of the total. Clinton aides offered no explanation on her approach to balancing campaigning and Senate duties and had nothing to say about the voting record of Democratic or Republican senators seeking the presidency.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama not only runs second to Clinton in party preference for the presidency, he runs second to Clinton in senatorial attendance. Obama has missed 59 of 310 votes or 19 percent of the votes taken this year. Among Obama's missed votes: the Sept. 11 security bill, the homeland security spending bill, the college tuition bill, the no confidence vote in Gonzales and the move to increase the bounty on bin Laden.
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton declined to discuss specific votes missed, skirting a question about why Obama skipped a vote on increasing the bounty on bin Laden but later delivered a speech promising to pursue bin Laden unilaterally if the U.S. had "actionable" intelligence on his whereabouts.
The declaration about using the U.S. military to attack bin Laden -- with or without Pakistan's permission -- has provoked widespread debate in political and foreign policy circles because it sought to portray Obama as more muscular in the War on Terror than his Democratic challengers. The contrast between that stance and the missed vote on bin Laden's bounty may arise in future campaign debates.
Burton would only say that Obama played a role in passing the lobbying and ethics reform bill, identifying it as a key Obama accomplishment in the 110th Congress.
Among the other two Democratic senators seeking the presidency, Connecticut's Christopher Dodd has missed 74 of 310 votes, or 23.9 percent of the votes taken this year. Among Dodd's missed votes: the Sept. 11 security bill, the homeland security spending bill, the no confidence vote on Gonzales, the bill to increase federal support for embryonic stem cell research and the bin Laden bounty.
Campaign spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan declined to comment on Dodd's voting record.
Delaware's Joe Biden has missed 78 of 310 votes, or 25.2 percent of votes taken this year. Among Biden's missed votes: the no confidence vote on Gonzales and the bin Laden bounty.
"Senator Biden has cast over 12,000 votes in his 34-year Senate career and he is proud of his legislative record, which includes authoring the Violence Against Women Act, the landmark Crime Bill which put 100,000 new cops on the streets and legislation this year to bring an end to the Iraq war," said Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander. "And while travel is required to compete as a 2008 presidential candidate, he has assured Senate leadership that he will not miss votes where the outcome hangs in the balance."