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Top ND Dems skip national convention

First Lady Michelle Obama waves to delegates at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Democrats absent from this week's national convention aren't going unnoticed.

For North Dakota, none of the top-ticket Democrats are among the state's 27 delegates at the convention.

It's similar across the country, where several prominent party leaders and Democratic candidates decided not to attend this week's ceremonial festivities during which President Barack Obama will accept his party's nomination for re-election.

Retiring U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad is the political figurehead of the North Dakota delegation, which otherwise includes a few state legislators, some legislative hopefuls and other party backers.

U.S. Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp, U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson and gubernatorial candidate Ryan Taylor have all cited campaign obligations as their reasons for forgoing the convention.

Heitkamp has gotten the most attention though because she praised Obama at the 2008 DNC and Republicans are eager this year to cast her as a Democratic ally.

Heitkamp first said in June she wouldn't be attending the national convention, and her campaign reaffirmed her reasons Tuesday.

"Heidi made the decision months ago not to attend the DNC because she has always felt that it is more important for her to stay in North Dakota and talk to the voters in this state about the issues that concern them," spokesman Liam Forsythe said.

Forsythe said Heitkamp's schedule this week includes meetings with legislators, multiple media appearances, the UTTC International PowWow and her first of three debates against Republican Rep. Rick Berg, which is today in Bismarck.

Republicans argue Heitkamp's absence at the DNC is a disingenuous attempt to appear independent from the national party.

"Regardless of what Heitkamp says, she is just like national Democrats," said Lance Trover, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Heidi Heitkamp not attending the DNC doesn't mean she's not supporting Barack Obama's way of big government."

Heitkamp isn't the only major candidate who previously campaigned for Obama but is now deciding not to back him in person at the DNC.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Arizona Senate candidate Richard Carmona are also staying in their home states this week to campaign.

Like Heitkamp, both Gulleson's and Taylor's campaigns said busy schedules and meetings with North Dakota voters are keeping them at home this week.

Along with the U.S. Senate debate today, North Dakota's U.S. House and gubernatorial candidates will debate in Bismarck.

Gulleson faces Republican U.S. House candidate Kevin Cramer, while Taylor will take on Republican incumbent Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Berg and Dalrymple represented North Dakota at the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa, Fla.

Earlier this summer, Gulleson spokeswoman Hillary Price said attending the DNC was "never in the plans."

"Pam is focused on meeting with as many North Dakotans as possible and doing events in the state," Price said Tuesday.

Taylor campaign manager Libby Schneider said: "Ryan didn't get into this race to go on out of state trips or because he likes politics; he got into this race for governor because he loves North Dakota."

"North Dakota is where Ryan chooses to spend his time, and this is where he wants to be," she said.

Minnesota Public Radio reported Tuesday that Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar will be in Charlotte this week, but among those notably absent from Minnesota's DNC delegation is Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents the 7th Congressional District.

Nationally, other top Democrats who aren't attending the convention this week include former Vice President Al Gore and 2008 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, according to ABC News.

As secretary of state, federal law prohibits Clinton from participating in political activities.