TAMPA — It's supposed to be the biggest night of their political careers: A speaking slot at the national party convention.
It also turns a candidate into a bull's-eye.
Opposition fire is now trained on even the most obscure down-ballot candidates — most of whom have secondary roles at the Republican National Convention, appearing on stage before delegates at sparsely-watched moments — who are getting hammered for taking the microphone.
Even before he took the stage Tuesday night to deliver a two-minute speech, Rich Hudson, a North Carolina congressional candidate, found himself under attack from the state Democratic Party, which sent out a press release saying that it was "no surprise that Washington insider Richard Hudson wants to run off to Florida to mingle with Washington elites and special interest groups that have bankrolled his campaign."
He wasn't alone. From the moment Gov. Brian Sandoval began his primetime speech, just after 9 p.m., the Nevada Democratic Party began flooding reporters' email boxes with press releases taking him apart. For full effect, when Sandoval exited the state at around 9:20 p.m., the state party sent out another one.
For Delaware Republican Sher Valenzuela, a lieutenant governor hopeful who spoke on Tuesday night, the attack took on a more personal form. On Friday, a parody website launched highlighting the ways Valenzuela's textile business had benefitted from government funds. The site was designed to paint Valenzuela, who spoke on the "We Built This" theme night of the convention, as a hypocrite.
It's not the first convention where featured speakers have taken heat from the opposing party. But to many political veterans, the magnitude of the assault is taking place on a much broader scale. And, they say, it underscores what's become a dominant theme in American politics: In a divided country where hyper-partisanship and an unrelenting 24-hour news cycle reins supreme, everyone — everyone — is fair game.
"When I spoke in 1996 and 2000, I was put in such an early hour that no one cared what I had to say," said former Democratic Rep. Martin Frost. "It was barely a ripple. My mother might have been the only person who was listening to what I was talking about."
"But this is a different campaign," Frost added. "You're in the middle of an intense campaign."
The biggest difference might be the presence of aggressive news outlets that are covering every corner of the campaign — including those lesser known pols who are looking to break out at the convention.
Mike Duncan, former Republican National Committee chairman who has attended 11 national conventions, said he couldn't remember a convention when so many speakers came under attack.
"You can explain that change because of the fact that there's a 24-hour new cycle," Duncan said. "There's just a lot of content to fill — and people fill the content."
Chris LaCivita, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee political director who is involved in an array of congressional races this year, predicted that Democrats would see the tables turned on them during their convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week.
"It's become the norm in the day and age of constant coverage," he said. "The people who are speaking at 2 o'clock this week and the people who speak at 2 o'clock next week will be getting attacked, and it's because they are being covered. They didn't used to be this covered."
As the Republicans scamper up to the podium, just about every one of them, it seems, is getting whacked. On Tuesday, the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC released TV ads slamming Republican congressional hopefuls Mia Love and David Rouzer just hours before they took the stage.
Perhaps no one took more heat than former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis, the Democrat-turned-Republican who, before overjoyed delegates, hammered away at President Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Davis expressing their "disdain over several recent comments you have made about the important issues facing voters in November, your total distortion of President Barack Obama's record, and your complete flip-flop on certain core principles you once held dear." Davis himself was a former CBC member.
Democrats and Republicans say attacking down-ballot candidates over their convention speeches presents perfect opportunities to attach them to national parties, both of which are unpopular with the public.
So at a time when many candidates are trying to paint themselves as independent-minded outsiders, Duncan, the former RNC chairman, said hopefuls might be better off staying home and avoiding the inevitable attacks.
"If you're a candidate running in a vulnerable district, you have to decide whether it's worth being here or should you go home and be in your district," he said. "A lot of candidates decide it's not worth being on a primetime schedule and being on that stage."