This is what congressional campaigns are like nowadays.

An Atlantic City Democrat who announced his plans to challenge a Republican congressman next year is already the target of an attack web site.

Bill Hughes Jr. announced plans to run against incumbent Frank LoBiondo Thursday. Though the election is more than a year away, there's already website up attacking him. Showing wrists in handcuffs, it says Hughes, an attorney, has been "helping New Jersey's most corrupt criminals since 2002."

I thought it was up the day Hughes announced, but spokesman Ian Prior of the National Republican Congressional Committee corrected me.

"Actually, I think it was up even before he announced," Prior said.

Prior explained that the NRCC does this to many Democratic challengers. They get wind a Democrat will run, buy URLs for website names such as "Bill Hughes Junior for Congress" before the Democrat does, and throw up an attack message on the site.

"And then we buy Google search ads, so that when people search for Bill Hughes Jr.'s name, it directs them to that website," Prior said. " We are defining candidates before they have an opportunity to define themselves."

Hughes, who noted that he served before as a federal prosecutor in the past, said the Republicans are attacking his criminal defense work to draw attention from their failures in Congress.

"Essentially they're criticizing me for doing my job when they haven't done theirs." Hughes said. "I think it's a poor tactic. I think they're going to regret it."

Hughes, who has no announced competition in the Democratic primary, is seeking to reclaim the seat his father held until his retirement.

LoBiondo first won election to Congress in 1994 as part of the "Republican Revolution" that established Newt Gingrich as House speaker.