By: Jonathan Allen
September 11, 2010 07:45 AM EDT
Try to find Rep. Steve Driehaus.
There are no public meet-and-greets listed on the Ohio freshman's campaign Website — even though he signed a welcome note on his home page claiming it is the place to "find out about upcoming events."
Ditto for Virginia Rep. Glenn Nye, who has a tool that lets users enter their zip code to get listings of events near their homes. Entering the zip code for Nye’s campaign office yields nothing within 50 miles.
Driehaus and Nye, both Democrats, are in two of the most hotly contested House races in the country.
But a year after tea party protesters disrupted their town hall meetings — and with control of the House hanging in the balance — many politically vulnerable House Democrats now appear reluctant to telegraph where and when they will appear in open forums.
This dynamic illustrates the clear enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, with public polls and anecdotal evidence showing the GOP is fired up for the mid-term election and Democratic voters are not.
"Everyone's nightmare is you have an event and there are more of the other people there than your people," said the chief of staff to one politically vulnerable House Democrat.
Another Democrat's top aide said opponents scan Websites for public events for "unfavorable uses."
In the age of camera-armed trackers, town-hall takeovers and Twitter, it's no wonder that new members of Congress can be a bit intimidated by the prospect of hostile constituents — or even one troublemaker.
But Democratic aides contend there are many reasons for events not to be listed on campaign Web sites, including the burden of keeping calendars updated and incumbents' preference for holding official congressional events rather than listing them under the political auspices of a campaign.
Democrats insist nobody has been dodging voters over this long summer recess.
Driehaus spokesman Tim Mulvy says his boss doesn't publish his schedule on the campaign site because events aren't locked down in advance.
"It's mostly because the congressman's schedule is generally fluid until a day or two before an event," Mulvy said. "It's more a matter of logistics than a matter of avoidance."
Mulvy further argued that it doesn't matter whether events are listed on the Web site because motivated constituents can find their congressman.
"Anyone who contacts us asking about events, we will tell them about any public events we have on the schedule," he said.
Driehaus was at a big Cincinnati union picnic on Labor Day, where he did an interview with Fox News, according to a local report.
Democratic party operatives in Washington say there's no one stopping members of the public from going to various official events featuring members of Congress.
There's even been a concerted effort by House Democratic aides to counter the perception that lawmakers are hiding from their constituents. Using a spreadsheet prepared by the House Democratic Caucus, they note that incumbents have attended hundreds of events around the country over the summer.
“While House Democrats have done thousands of public events back home for the past 18 months across their districts, House Republicans and their flawed candidates have been ducking voters, holding closed meetings with right wing fringe groups and have taken a beating in their hometown papers,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Doug Thornell, an aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), compiles clips from local newspapers about such events and e-mails them to reporters and Democratic aides to show how active freshman and sophomore Democratic lawmakers are in their districts.
But a list of hundreds of such clips from the August recess reveals only a handful that show uncontrolled interaction with constituents. Most involve lawmakers touring local businesses, taking credit for federal grants going to communities or awarding medals to veterans.
“This is just another bogus GOP talking point – Dems not holding public events – right up there with the health care death panels in truthfulness. According to an independent analysis Democrats have held more town halls than Republicans this year,” Thornell said. “In August, Democrats held hundreds of public events and activities on a range of issues. The whole claim is ridiculous.”
Each campaign has its own strategy for dealing with the public -- and some vulnerable House Democrats, such as freshman Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), openly advertise where and when voters can meet with them.
Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) one of the most vulnerable House Democrats in the country, actually walked into the lions' den, meeting with members of a local tea party. Democratic polls show Perriello within the margin of error against Republican challenger Robert Hurt, but a recent independent survey gave Hurt a 26-point advantage over the incumbent.
Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil, who won with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2008, lists only the dates, times and locations of private events on his campaign Website's calendar.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) informs his 42 Twitter followers of gatherings via tweets that are fed to his campaign Web site -- though most of them are closed events.
Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) lets voters know about events that already have occurred.
Republicans say it's clear that Democrats have headed for the bunker.
"With few exceptions, Democrats have gone out of their way to avoid the town halls of last summer in favor of controlled events that limit any dialogue with their constituents. Between avoiding voters and attempting to distance themselves from the Obama-Pelosi agenda, it didn't take long for 'Recovery Summer' to become 'Run for Cover Summer,’” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay.
By the GOP's count, only a dozen Democrats in tough districts held town halls this summer.
House Republicans, by contrast, sent out dozens of photos of GOP lawmakers at town hall meetings in their districts over the summer break. But not every Republican is up to speed on publicizing events -- Driehaus' GOP opponent, former Rep. Steve Chabot, lists no upcoming events on his Website.
"Our events page is getting an upgrade and will return soon," says a note under the "News and Events" section of the site. "If you have questions, or wish to join us at an event please contact our office."
The last item listed on Driehaus' official Website was a constituent-service day in March.
In Nye's 2nd District, based in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, challenger Scott Rigell is holding town halls even though he's not a sitting member of Congress -- and the first of his "Ten Commitments" to his would-be constituents is that he would "listen to your concerns, issues and ideas." He even lists a home phone number on his Web site.