Embattled House, Senate candidates to get boosts from GOP convention speaking spots

Alexis Levinson | Political Reporter

Several embattled House and Senate candidates will get a potential boost next week when they take the national stage as speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Rep. Quico Canseco, who is locked in what the Houston Chronicle calls “the most competitive congressional race in Texas,” will speak at the convention.

So will Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan, who is running in a race that the Cook Political Report calls a “pure toss up.” Kieth Rothfus, another speaker, and the Republican candidate in Pennsylvania’s 12th District, is running in a district that is also a toss up.

Other speakers, like Rep. Sean Duffy and Indiana’s Jackie Walorski, are in Republican-leaning districts but are being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Still others, like Kentucky’s Andy Barr, California’s Ricky Gill, and John Archer of Iowa’s 2nd District, are running in districts where the Democrat is favored.

Rep. Connie Mack, the Republican Senate candidate from Florida, and North Dakota Senate candidate Rick Berg, are simply locked in tight races.

Putting people who might not win on the stage may not be seem like the best strategy, but showcasing embattled candidates is “standard for both parties,” according to Republican strategist Phillip Stutts.

“It’s usually good for these candidates, both for press at home and for fundraising — which is crucial in tight races,” he added.

“Every convention wants to elevate the candidates that can benefit,” said strategist Dan Hazelwood. “Being viewed as an articulate somewhat national figure is always a good thing if you take care of business at home. Getting a little press pop is a good thing.”

A speaking slot doesn’t necessarily translate into a bump in the polls, cautioned Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics. But, he said, it’s a nice thing to be able to tell donors and supporters.

“It gives the speaker an opportunity to say to her donors, volunteers, local media that the national party cares enough about this race and my chances that they gave me a speaking opportunity,” he pointed out. “That’s a nice boost. It doesn’t matter that you only had a minute to speak or that most people weren’t listening. It only matters that you got a chance. The fact that the speaking opportunities are usually early means the candidate can then leave and go back home to campaign.”

“The ‘validation’ bump is helpful in building a better organization or raising more money that might ultimately help get more votes,” he said.

It also gives the candidate the opportunity to target the select group of people that are watching and paying attention.

“In reality, those watching these speeches are partisans,” said Republican strategist Chuck Warren. “So these believers are looking for rising stars.”

“Let’s take Mia Love, for example,” he said referring to the Utah congressional candidate who has a prime-time speaking spot. If elected, she would be the first black, female Republican in Congress.

“She is a gifted speaker,” Warren said. “She speaks with enthusiasm and excites an audience. If she knocks it out of the park, it could spark a significant small donor fundraising increase from out-of-state donors.”

Love, who trailed her Democratic opponent, Rep. Jim Matheson, by 15 points in a June poll, could probably use it.

Putting embattled candidates on the stage is also a good thing for presidential nominee Mitt Romney for a number of reasons.

“It tells us that these candidates don’t fear being associated with Romney,” Hazelwood said. “They are feeling good vibes at home about the Romney campaign and ticket. It makes it easier for the party with everyone rowing in the same direction with head held high.”

Given the negative attention being paid to Democratic candidates opting to skip their party’s convention, the show of solidarity is a good thing.

“It also may suggests that Romney — a successful manager and leader — believes he will have difficulty accomplishing anything in D.C. without a team that supports his principles and vision,” Warren said. “For example, it will be very difficult for a Romney administration to get our deficits and national debt under control without Republican majorities in Senate and House.”

On a purely logistical level, Grayson said, it’s a useful way to fill the speaking spots outside of prime time that bigger names might find less desirable.

“It’s also a chance for the party and the nominee to help spotlight these candidates. ‘This is our future. We need them in Congress.’ That sort of thing,” he said. “It’s a good way to fill out the convention agenda, especially because the candidate speakers are appreciative of the speaking opportunity. They don’t care that it’s not prime time.”

The Romney campaign referred questions to the convention.

“We are very excited about the lineup of candidates speaking at the convention,” said convention press secretary Kyle Downey.

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