FARGO - North Dakota Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp plans to skip the Democratic Party's convention this fall, a decision Republicans say is further evidence of her attempts to distance herself from an unpopular president.
Heitkamp spokesman Liam Forsythe denounced the criticism, which has been a repeated attack from Republicans throughout the 2012 campaign.
"She decided it's more important for her to be here in North Dakota and to be campaigning here and talking to the people of North Dakota than to be in Charlotte (N.C.) at that time," Forsythe said.
Heitkamp is the latest Democratic candidate to declare intentions to skip the national convention this fall. She joins a list that includes several sitting U.S. senators: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Forsythe said Heitkamp was thinking about not attending this year's DNC for a while.
"It's been in the back of her mind, but the decision was made relatively recently," Forsythe said. "It's not something that was influenced by anyone else."
The Democratic National Convention is set for Sept. 4-6.
With President Barack Obama seeking re-election this year, some of the polarizing policies that have marked his tenure have become political footballs that are defining federal races nationwide.
It's no different in North Dakota, where the 2010 health care reform law has been among the most-debated issues between Heitkamp and Republican Rep. Rick Berg.
Berg opposes the controversial bill and favors repeal. Heitkamp supported the law, but has lightened up on her initial support in recent months.
Republicans have used her apparent backtracking as evidence to allege she's distancing herself from the Obama administration and national Democrats.
Heitkamp does not mention her party affiliation in any of her campaign ads this year, and she's also drawn criticism for comments she made praising Obama when she attended the last Democratic National Convention in 2008.
It's a compliment Republican groups are not letting her forget.
"It comes as no surprise that Heidi Heitkamp would not want to re-live her 2008 convention performance where she said the president is 'amazing,' " said Lance Trover, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Try as she might to run from her record, North Dakotans know that not only did Heitkamp call Barack Obama 'amazing,' she also endorsed Obamacare."
Forsythe said Heitkamp is not trying to hide her Democratic ties.
"That's what they've been saying all along," Forsythe said of Republicans. "She sticks by what she said. She's not running from anything."
"It doesn't really have anything to do with the president," he added. "People know who Heidi is. ... She ran as a Democrat in the primary. It's hard to hide the fact that you're a Democrat when you're name is right next to it on a ballot."
Heitkamp isn't the only North Dakota Democrat skipping the DNC this year.
U.S. House candidate Pam Gulleson also plans to campaign in the state instead of attending the national bash.
"Going to the national convention was never in the plans for Pam this year," spokeswoman Hillary Price said. "Pam is much more concerned with reaching out to voters here in North Dakota and has several events scheduled at that time in the state."
Gulleson faces Republican Kevin Cramer and libertarian Eric Olson on the November ballot.
Unlike Heitkamp, Gulleson hasn't been bombarded with Republican attacks painting her as an ally to the Obama White House.
Earlier this week, the top House Democrat whose role it is to get Democrats elected this fall openly encouraged the party's congressional candidates to skip the DNC.
New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said this week that House candidates - especially those in competitive races - would fare better by staying in their home districts instead of attending the national political event.
The DCCC has put some money behind Gulleson's campaign so far and also has North Dakota's race pegged as one Democrats want to win in November.