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How Democrats keep gate-crashing the GOP convention

Once upon a time, convention week was a chance for the opposing candidate to rest up. That began to change in 2008 – Obama and the Democrats are now running full tilt during the GOP convention.

By Staff writer / August 30, 2012

President Obama shrugs during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday. Obama made a surprise appearance on Reddit, a popular Internet social news site, and took questions from users in the site’s 'Ask Me Anything.'

Steve Helber/AP

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Tampa, Fla.

It’s no coincidence that President Obama chose Wednesday to make a surprise appearance on Reddit, a popular Internet social news site. The president took questions from users in the site’s “Ask Me Anything,” or AMA, forum – and in the process, siphoned off some attention from the GOP Convention in Tampa.

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Along with the pomp and ceremony of the official convention programming comes a more under-the-radar tradition: the numerous ways the rival party concocts to undercut that programming and message.

In the past, there’s been at least a partial, mutually respected truce during conventions, in which the rival presidential candidate himself takes the week off from campaigning, often using the convention days to grab a brief vacation. But that tradition was eroded in 2008, when both then-Senator Obama and Sen. John McCain scheduled some campaign events during the other’s convention.

This year, the Democratic insurgency is in full swing, with a roster of heavy-hitting surrogates launching defensive attacks from the Democratic war room just blocks from the convention center, and Obama himself campaigning to an unprecedented degree during the convention on college campuses and in swing states. Until hurricane Isaac threatened, Vice President Biden was even scheduled to be in Tampa, which would have been unheard of. 

The advent of super PACS and nonstop ads playing in swing states over the summer “has frontloaded the entire campaign insurgency, because no one wants to let their foot off the pedal in terms of keeping up the drumbeat for their viewpoint,” says Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

Here in Tampa, a deep roster of well-known Democrats have been chatting up reporters, holding press conferences, and even infiltrating the Tampa Bay Times Forum (“There were a lot of double-takes,” former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reportedly said afterward).

Mr. Gibbs is one of the most familiar Democratic faces hiding amid the hordes of Republican ones in Tampa, but he’s far from alone. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is here too, as is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Obama’s campaign cochair, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who will be the stand-in for the GOP vice presidential nominee in Biden’s debate preparations.

They’re available to rebut all the GOP spin, and press conferences each day in the Democratic war room have taken on specific themes: why Mitt Romney is bad for the middle class; why Mr. Romney is bad for women; why Romney was bad for Massachusetts.

On Thursday, Democrats were falling over each other to refute the many claims in vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speech.

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