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This summer's Democratic National Convention keeps getting downsized. Planners shrank it earlier this year from a four-day extravaganza to three. This week, they moved a big kick-off event from a NASCAR track. It will take place closer to the convention center. And now, the guest list is downsizing too. At least a dozen Dems say they can't make it.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports they're all facing tough election campaigns in places where President Obama's popularity lags.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Four years ago, then-West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin addressed Democrats gathered in Denver for their convention. He gave a full-throated endorsement of the man the party would soon nominate as its standard bearer.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Barack Obama is the only candidate in this race who has captured our nation's hopes for the kind of change we so desperately need. Let's do what's right for America and elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States of America.

NAYLOR: That was 2008. In 2012, now Senator Joe Manchin won't be attending, much less addressing the convention where President Obama will be renominated. Instead, according to a statement from his office, Manchin will be, quote, "focused on the people of West Virginia." Manchin is running for re-election in a state where being on the same ballot as the Democratic president is not likely to be helpful. Among the 12 Democrats who have said they'll be skipping the convention are Senators Jon Tester from Montana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: It's like a luxury to go to a party convention. I think most of the media spends most of its time talking about how worthless these conventions have become, and then they try to make a big deal out of the fact that people aren't going to them. I think it has everything to do with me being in a tough race. I have never attended a convention when I've been in a contested race.

NAYLOR: McCaskill was an early supporter of President Obama and says she hopes he'll campaign in Missouri, which the president narrowly lost in 2008. While Mr. Obama has a better shot of carrying Pennsylvania, he's probably not going to win the district of Democratic Congressman Mark Critz in the southwestern part of the state, says Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College.

TERRY MADONNA: It's a blue-collar, working-class district that tends to be pro-life and pro-gun, one that the president historically has had trouble with, and as a result of that, Critz like some other Democrats around the country sort of blue-dog types are resisting getting too closely connected with the administration.

NAYLOR: That includes Democratic members of Congress from Georgia and Utah and even upstate New York. Senate candidates from North Dakota and Arizona also say they plan to stay away from Charlotte. These are the latest blows to convention organizers. The other day, they announced they were moving a big Labor Day rally that had been planned for the Charlotte Motor Speedway to a smaller site. Republicans are predictably having fun with the announced Democratic no-shows. A release from Mitt Romney's campaign was gleefully headlined: Debacle: Dozen Dem Defectors Ditch DNC. McCaskill says it's a no-win situation.

MCCASKILL: I think if I went to the convention, the Republican operatives would be trying to get all the press to talk about the fact that I'm ignoring Missourians in favor of bigwig donors and party hacks. So I think I'm in one of those situations that no matter what I had chosen, the folks running against me would have found something to be critical of.

NAYLOR: And McCaskill and other Democrats are getting some cover from party leaders. The head of the Democrats House campaign committee says it makes sense for Democrats to stay in their districts during the convention, knowing it's the same advice the party gave its candidates four years ago. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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