With 16 missed votes of the 77 that the Republican-controlled Senate have held in 2019, Harris and Booker far outpace the number missed by their fellow senators also vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders has missed seven votes so far this year, while Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar have each missed three and Sen. Elizabeth Warren has missed one vote, the AP found.
Seeking the presidency as a sitting member of Congress requires a logistical juggling act that often results in candidates taking hits for missed votes as the pace of campaign season picks up. Perhaps the most notable recent example is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who took hits for his missed votes from his rivals — including future President Donald Trump — during the 2016 GOP presidential primary.
"When you're a governor or businessman, you can run for president and still do your day job. But when you're a senator or congressman and run for president, you're not voting, which is the single most important part of your job," said Alex Conant, a veteran Republican strategist and Rubio's communications director in 2016. "So I think there's an inherent conflict that people (who) aren't in that position are going to try to exploit."
That doesn't mean, however, that jabbing at presidential candidates for missed votes is effective. While Rubio's absenteeism drew criticism from Trump as well as from the Democrat seeking to take his Senate seat in 2016, he still easily won reelection.
And Rubio had missed considerably more votes at a similar point in 2015 than Harris and Booker have during 2019's Senate session so far: The Republican was absent from 25 of the first 77 votes of that year, according to the AP's tally. That is 56% more votes than Harris and Booker missed.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also took heat for missed votes from his opponent last year, former congressman turned Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, and still came out ahead. Democratic strategist Jesse Lehrich, a former aide to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign who's not currently affiliated with any presidential candidate, predicted his party's presidential candidates would avoid making missed votes an issue in a primary that's stayed largely free of infighting.
"Given the positive tenor on the Democratic side of the campaign thus far, I just can't imagine any candidate trying to disingenuously weaponize it in this primary," Lehrich said. "If someone did, I think it would backfire."
Harris and Booker tallied the bulk of their missed votes this month, including the confirmation of Trump's nominee to lead the Interior Department , David Bernhardt, because the two had separately scheduled campaign travel to Iowa. Harris entered a statement in the Congressional Record making clear that she would have voted no on advancing Bernhardt to a final vote.
Asked about his missed votes after a Wednesday campaign stop in Atlanta, Booker told reporters: "I'm very confident the people of New Jersey know I'm working for them and delivering results." Booker cited work on veterans care and community health centers, along with his sponsorship of bipartisan opportunity zones legislation intended to spur economic growth in disadvantaged, economically depressed areas.
Broadly speaking, none of the Democratic senators running in 2020 have missed votes in which their presence would have affected the result. "I'd be shocked if any 2020 Democratic candidate missed a key vote where the outcome was actually up in the air," Lehrich said.
On that point, Conant offered some bipartisan consensus: "I never ran into a voter in Iowa or New Hampshire who was concerned that Rubio was missing votes," recalled the Republican, now a partner at the firm Firehouse Strategies. "Voters understand that when you're running for president, missing votes comes with the job. The one exception, I think, is if you miss a vote of national significance where your vote could be decisive."
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Juana Summers in Washington contributed to this report.