CLEVELAND – The only Arizona congressional Republican to show up at the party’s national convention this year defended his absent colleagues Wednesday, calling it a busy time of year for officeholders facing re-election this fall.
The comments from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, came after an appearance before the state’s Republican convention delegates in which he urged support for GOP nominee Donald Trump. Franks said that if the party misses a chance to win the White House with Trump this year, it might not get another.
“I believe this is probably the most important election in my lifetime and I just had to be here,” said Franks, who spoke after arriving in Cleveland at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday on a flight from London.
Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham said all GOP members of Congress were invited, but not all could attend because of conflicting schedules – noting how difficult it was for Franks even to attend.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but our congressional representation is very enthusiastic and supportive of our state party and our delegation,” Graham said. “They would’ve loved to have been here but they couldn’t do it.”
Neither of the state’s senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, is at the convention.
McCain publicly feuded with Trump after the nominee made disparaging comments last year about the senator’s status as a war hero. McCain’s office has pointed to his re-election campaign schedule as he faces a primary challenge from former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu.
Flake, who has questioned Trump’s often-inflammatory comments about Mexicans, Muslims and other minority groups, did not even make an attempt at a legitimate excuse, telling one reporter that he was staying home to mow the lawn.
Republican Reps. Martha McSally of Tucson and Paul Gosar of Prescott had campaign commitments in Arizona, and Gosar’s office said he is also attending his daughter’s wedding. Rep. Matt Salmon of Mesa had a personal conflict, according to his office, while the office of Rep. David Schweikert of Fountain Hills did not provide a reason for Schweikert’s absence.
But the lawmakers weren’t completely off the hook with some delegates.
(Video by Wafa Shahid/Cronkite News)
John Rosado, a delegate from Phoenix, said Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation should have supported the GOP with their presence, calling their absence “sad.”
“The others should’ve been here too,” Rosado said. “At least one of the two senators should’ve been here. It’s shameful that they weren’t.”
While alternate delegate Gene Klund of Mesa echoed that sentiment, he noted that some members of Congress, like McCain, have their own elections to worry about.
“I would like to see more of our congressmen here and supporting the party,” Klund said Wednesday. “I know there are other agendas with elections going on right now, so it’s important to be in Arizona with your constituents.”
Delegate Kim Owens of Avondale said lawmakers who have publicly sparred with Trump may have stayed away to keep the spotlight on the nominee instead of opening up a “whole can of worms again.”
“The focus needs to be on our nominee,” Owens said. “It needs to be on where we are now, not where we’ve been. Sen. McCain has a race at home and I think he’s doing exactly what he needs to do.”
“They’re staying away, to me, as an indication of their willingness to give the nominee his position and let him be the story,” Owens said.
Former state Sen. Jack Harper said that because McCain has his re-election campaign to focus on, his absence should not be seen as a lack of support for Trump or the party.
“He has a contested primary,” Harper said. “It’s not a snide to Donald Trump.”