MILWAUKEE -- The hunt for voters is causing Bernie Sanders to miss a lot of votes in Washington.
So far this year the Vermont Senator has cast only a single vote on the Senate floor, missing the other 19 in January and February. That makes him the most absent senator running for president.
Even Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the Republican presidential candidate whose disdain for his day job has become an issue in the GOP primary, has voted slightly more often this year than Sanders.
Over the totality of the campaign, Sanders’ voting rate looks far better. In the last 12 months he’s missed 47 of 304 votes, according to data compiled by GovTrack, a government transparency website. Rubio, in that time period, missed 115 votes, the data show.
Balancing voting in Washington with the travel schedule associated with a modern presidential campaign always causes complications. But voters don’t necessarily care. In the same 12 month time period during the 2008 election, then-Senator Hillary Clinton missed 110 of 410 votes, and rival Barack Obama did even worse. He missed 147 of 410 votes, the data shows.
Michael Briggs, a Sanders campaign spokesman, didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment. (But members of Team Sanders who flew from Boston to Milwaukee with this reporter late Wednesday night pointed to the Vermont Senator’s 25-year record in Congress, noting that he missed few votes in that time.)
The recent spate of absenteeism coincides perfectly with spikes in his poll numbers, which shot up in Iowa and New Hampshire just after the Christmas break. Sanders narrowly lost Iowa and shellacked Clinton in New Hampshire with a 22-point victory.
The 2016 no-shows for Sanders on the Senate floor included Wednesday when 96 of his colleagues voted to support strengthening sanctions against North Korea, the communist hermit nation with nuclear weapons that stirred up new concerns with a recent rocket launch.
Sanders, who must gain support among black voters if his candidacy is going to survive past early March, didn’t vote in Washington because he was in New York meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Clinton’s camp seized on that missed vote Thursday. “It is unfortunate that yet again, Senator Sanders has shown a lack of interest in vital national security issues, failing to vote on sanctions against the country he said poses the greatest threat to the United States,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Clinton campaign spokesman.
Missing votes is new for the Vermont Senator. When he announced that he was running for president in a brief news conference in April, he abruptly cut of reporters saying he needed to return to the Senate floor for a voting session.
And, as recently as this fall, Sanders was being praised for his uncanny ability to cast votes and also run for president.
“Well, that’s kind of what I’m paid to do,” Sanders said on MSNBC to correspondent Andrea Mitchell in November. “My job is what I’m paid to do right now..., to represent the people of the State of Vermont in the United States Senate. That’s what I do. I will miss votes but I’m trying to miss as few as I possibly can.”
The presidential field contained five senators; now it is down to three – Sanders, Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham dropped out.
The one vote that Sanders cast this year? He voted to cut off debate to bring a bill to the floor that would audit the federal reserve. It’s an idea that was first pushed by libertarian hero Representative Ron Paul and was resurrected by his son, Rand.