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Tables can turn on political trackers

Operative follows wrong guy, quits

Donnelly
Mourdock

– For all their efforts standing anonymously behind camcorders, smartphones and other devices at campaign stops in the last half dozen years, political trackers seem to make the most news when they become the focus.

The benchmark for success was set in 2006, when Democratic operative S.R. Sidarth captured former U.S. Sen. George Allen referring to him as a “macaca,” a term that is considered an ethnic disparagement in some cultures. The word earned Allen that “former” in front of his title and launched a wave of trackers across the nation.

Kurt Holland became the latest tracker to make the news last week when the Indianapolis Star reported he followed Marion County Judge Jose Salinas from an event after confusing him with Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly.

Salinas called the police on Holland, and the GOP tracker later said he was being paid by the National Republican Senatorial Committee to follow Donnelly, who is running against GOP nominee Richard Mourdock.

Trackers are out-in-the-open spies sent by political parties to watch opponents at campaign stops. Their hope: to catch them in an unbelievable gaffe that will allow the opposition to label them a bigot, socialist or some other degrading term.

“I didn’t like it. I felt dirty, I felt scummy. I felt like I was just lowering my morals,” Fishers resident Holland, 45, said of the five weeks or so he spent trailing Donnelly. “I just don’t like the idea of sneaking around, and I did not find it honorable.”

After the house call from the police, Holland said he quit the job.

The typical tracker has few qualms about being aggressive.

A tracker working for the Indiana Democratic Party was kicked out of McFarling Foods in Indianapolis as he waited for Mourdock to appear last month. Mourdock, the state treasurer, has previously complained about Democratic trackers waiting for him outside his Darmstadt home.

The aggression is troubling, but it shouldn’t deter politicians from making public appearances, Donnelly said.

“If you view it that way, then people doing that are being successful at what they do,” said Donnelly, who represents Indiana’s 2nd District in the U.S. House.

That aggression from trackers hired by both parties, Donnelly said, reminds him of the vitriol and threats he faced from tea party members who attended his public town halls in 2009 during the health care debate.

Indiana Republican Party spokesman Pete Seat, who Holland says was his direct boss, called Holland’s decision to trail Salinas a “mistake.” He noted that any tracker should be doing what a journalist would do: follow candidates to public events and record what they say.

“Nowadays, with the way technology is, everyone to some degree is a tracker,” Seat said. “They can easily from their iPad record a YouTube video and post it to their web page in minutes.”

What they’re all after, of course, is The Moment: a statement so shocking that it can flip an election on its head, one Allen, the Virginia Republican, knows all too well. His moment came when he singled out a volunteer of Indian ancestry who was working for his opponent, Jim Webb.

“My friends, we are going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas. And it’s important that we motivate and inspire people for something,” Allen said in the famous 2006 clip, as the crowd cheered. “This fellow over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is, he’s with my opponent and he’s following us around everywhere.”

“So welcome, let’s give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia,” Allen said.

Posted on YouTube, video of the comment became grist for news reports for weeks. Allen is still apologizing for that gaffe as he runs for the Senate again.

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