While most serious campaigns on both sides use campaign trackers — staffers whose job is to record on video every public appearance and statement by an opponent — House Democrats are taking it to another level. They’re now recording video of the homes of GOP congressmen and candidates and posting the raw footage on the Internet for all to see.
That ratcheting up of the video surveillance game is unnerving Republicans who insist that even by political standards, it’s a gross invasion of privacy. Worse, they say, it creates a safety risk for members of Congress and their families at a time when they are already on edge after a deranged gunman shot former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords 18 months ago.
Trackers assigned to California GOP candidate Ricky Gill, a highly touted challenger to Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney, pushed the edge of the envelope even further.
In May, a clip of Gill’s parents’ Lodi, Calif., mansion appeared online. The one-minute video shows the front of the huge home, a gated fence and vast front yard. The next month brought a three-minute video that begins by slowly passing by Gill’s home, with a cameraman overheard saying, “This is the house that he’s been registered to vote in since 2005.”
About one minute in, the video shifts to the University of California-Berkeley, campus, where the 25-year-old Gill recently finished studying law. The tracker waits in a hallway where Gill soon appears. As the candidate walks outside, the tracker follows in clandestine pursuit.In 2004, a Senate candidate faced the same treatment. The Chicago Tribune reported:
A campaign operative for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan will keep himself and his video recorder a few more paces away from his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, a Ryan spokesman said Friday.
The spokesman also apologized if the operative invaded Obama's "personal space."
Ryan staffer Justin Warfel had been trailing and filming Obama, a state senator from Hyde Park, since at least May 11. Ryan aides said they dispatched Warfel to monitor Obama in Springfield and in other Downstate locales because they are trying to document if Obama's statements are consistent as he campaigns across Illinois.
But Warfel had been getting a little too close for Obama's comfort, and when Obama complained to reporters and the Ryan campaign on Thursday that Warfel was stalking him, Warfel was told to take a step back.
"If we got a little too close to his personal space, we'll see that that doesn't happen again," said Bill Pascoe, communications director for Ryan. "The campaign manager has asked [Warfel] just make sure you don't get too close. ... I have no reason to doubt Mr. Obama's word, and I offer an apology on behalf of the campaign.
"Politics in Illinois and here in Chicago is certainly a contact sport," Obama said Friday at an unrelated news conference. "But I think it is indicative of a pattern in politics in the United States these days, especially in Washington, where anything goes. There is sort of a scorched-earth approach to politics so that people in politics think they can do things that none of us would ever think about doing in normal life."