By Esme Murphy

EDINA, Minn. (WCCO) – U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen is taking heat for being a no-show at Edina’s Fourth of July parade.

The Republican was listed in the official online parade program, including the one that was distributed Tuesday morning.

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John Swon, the chair of the parade, said that a Paulsen representative called him Sunday to say that the congressman had a scheduling conflict and would not be able to attend the parade.

Swon says by then it was too late to change the program, which had Paulsen back-to-back with another congressman, Democrat Keith Ellison.

On Tuesday, Paulsen’s spokesperson, Andrew Johnson, wrote to WCCO-TV, saying that since it was an “off year,” the congressman didn’t plan on appearing in the parade.

“As was the case two years ago in the last off year, he didn’t participate then either, so nothing new here,” Johnson said. “I think it’s more of an on-year versus off-year thing.”

Paulsen’s no-show left an opening for his critics, as protesters took his place in the parade.

“Our congressman didn’t show, so we are here instead,” said Clara Severson, who said she lives in Paulsen’s district.

She added: “He never has town halls, he didn’t show up to this, so we decided to take his place.”

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Swon called the protesters “parade crashers” and said they should not have taken the congressman’s spot.

Looking exuberant in the Paulsen vacuum was his possible 2018 DFL opponent, Twin Cities businessman Dean Phillips.

Phillips shook hands along the parade route, thanking people for coming out to the parade. Phillips also brought in some star power: former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Phillips blasted Paulsen for not being at the Fourth of July celebration.

“One of the first responsibilities of representation is showing up and that is why I am here,” Phillips said.

Paulsen has faced a string of protests for his lack of in-person town hall meetings since the November election.

According to Larry Jacobs, a political analyst, Fourth of July parades are “must-show political events.”

But he also says Paulsen, who cruised to victory last November, remains a formidable candidate even though Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in his congressional district by almost 10 points.

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“Dean Phillips is new to this,” he said, “and his odds are very long to beat a well-established incumbent.”

Esme Murphy