WASHINGTON - The next time the Republican Party holds a national convention, planners might want to check in more than 48 hours in advance with one of the nation;s more powerful Indian leaders about their desire for him to speak at the convention.
Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne Tribe, told Indian Country Today that he was unable to make it to the Republican National Convention this year because schedulers of the event only gave him two days notice beforehand that they wanted him to attend.
RNC planners had wanted him to give a speech on tribal issues and to talk about the importance of the Indian vote. But Nighthorse Campbell was already scheduled to be at a business summit and other meetings.
''I just couldn't make it,'' Nighthorse Campbell said with a sigh. ''I just had other commitments by that point in time.''
Nighthorse Campbell has been no stranger to Republican get-togethers since he switched allegiance from the Democratic Party in 1995. He served as a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 until 2005 and was for some time the only American Indian serving in Congress. He was also a three term U.S. Representative from 1987 to 1993.
Adding insult to injury, Nighthorse Campbell is the honorary co-chair of the American Indians for McCain Coalition, a group composed of Republican tribal leaders.
As part of the duties of that role, the senator offered praise for his friend, the senator from Arizona, in a press statement: ''John McCain is a man of honor and he will be a great President for Indian country, and all Americans.''
The slight to Nighthorse Campbell is especially ill-timed considering perceptions from some parts of Indian country that McCain's campaign is not doing enough to reach out to tribes or Native media.
Nighthorse Campbell, who said he's been serving as a sort of McCain surrogate by visiting some tribal leaders, readily admits that Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign has been able to set up a much better ground operation in Indian country.
The senator said that McCain himself has expressed a ''personal desire'' to visit and reach out to more tribes, but Nighthorse Campbell said his handlers seem to be keeping him on a tight leash.
''I think he's being jerked around too much by his schedulers,'' Nighthorse Campbell candidly assessed.
The National Congress of American Indians has invited McCain to a two-day tribal summit in late-October, but the senator's schedulers still haven't given him the go ahead to attend.
''McCain wants to speak to them,'' Nighthorse Campbell said. ''But we'll see what happens.''
Planners with the convention did not return requests for comment to explain the late invitation extended to the senator.