by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Is Anybody Coming? & r & & r & First came the news that head honchos at GOP HQ were allowing Republican Senate candidates to run whatever kind of campaign they think they need to win -- that it's OK to break with President Bush's policies. Now comes the news from Congress Daily that nine of the 12 most endangered Republicans running for re-election to the U.S. Senate plan to or may sit out the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. President Bush will appear at the pageant, and many seem wary of giving their opponents any wayward video of them together with the president with the lowest sustained popularity in recorded American history. But it is possible to be less popular than Bush, as Vice President Dick Cheney has proven in poll after poll. So the news that he, too, will skip the festivities may come as a relief to many. Even farther down the totem pole is Ted Stevens, the recently indicted Republican Senator from Alaska, who has also decided to stay home.

Larry, In Spirit

Although Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has given up his quest for re-election and will not appear at the GOP convention either, his ghost is sure to play a role. After all, the bathroom where he was arrested -- and where his political career ended -- is in the very airport that all delegates will travel through to get to the convention. It's a safe bet that The Daily Show will file at least one report from the celebrated stall.

Really Breaking Ranks

If you think sitting out the convention is a message to your constituents, check out Gordon Smith, Oregon's moderate Republican Senator, who is facing a stiff re-election challenge. Sure, he's avoiding St. Paul like the plague, but he's also started featuring a curious guest star in his TV ads -- Barack Obama. Although Obama has endorsed his opponent, Smith cites his bipartisan work with the Democratic Senator from Illinois as a way to win over voters in blue Oregon. Obama is ahead of John McCain in Oregon by nine points, according to a July 15 Rasmussen Reports poll. Now Smith is bringing in California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a supporter -- the same man who has said he would consider a cabinet post in an Obama administration.

Mardi Bras

Through March 3
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