Track the Field

One of the stories that seems to have gotten traction for some reason is the fact that the campaign of Lt. Governor Anthony Brown is employing a tracker to follow Attorney General Doug Gansler around during the run up to next June’s Democratic Primary. To be fair Brown has brought a lot of this controversy on himself (as Jeff Quinton noted) by employing the tracker and be being effusive in his denial of his campaign’s involvement in the release of scandalous materials surrounding Gansler, something I made note of.

None of that bothers me though. What bothers me is the reaction that I have seen from the Craig campaign aimed at Brown for tracking Gansler in the first place:

Republican gubernatorial candidate David R. Craig on Monday criticized Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown’s use of a “tracker” to videotape Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler‘s public appearances, calling the practice a way for Brown to “trash his opponent” in the Democratic race. 

Craig, the Harford County executive, said he has never used trackers in his campaigns. His comments came in response to a Baltimore Sun article on Brown’s tactics. 

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Craig called the practice — common in campaigns around the country — “a sign that candidates are too weak to run on their own record.” He said campaigns use trackers to seek “gotcha” moments to use in negative advertising.

As the story notes, both Craig and fellow Republican Charles Lollar oppose the use of trackers on the campaign trail and will not use them. Which is a terrible idea.
Trackers are nothing new in Maryland politics. Then Congressman Bob Ehrlich was being tracked during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Both the Ehrlich and O’Malley campaigns used trackers in the 2010 campaign, eliciting even a write up on about the practice. Their use in politics, both at the national and the statewide level goes back far earlier than even these instances. It’s as common a campaign practice in 2014 as roboalls, microtargeting, and phone-banking.
To not track an opposing candidate and to publicly say that you aren’t tracking a candidate is ceding crucial tactical ground to the opposition.
One of the key flaws with Craig’s assertion that the practice is a sign of candidate weakness is the fact that we live in a world with a 24/7 news cycle, social media, and smart phones. Gone are the days where a candidate can say one thing to the television and print media, and another thing to voters and activists groups. While talking out of both sides of one’s mouth is still a common political practice, years ago it was a lot easier to get away with it when candidates had no fear of repercussions. When campaigns employ a tracker, it makes it easier for a campaign to prove that their opposing candidate is being consistent and direct with the voting public.
There is a additional premise that I reject:

“There is nothing transparent about recording and selectively editing your opponents’ comments, packaging the story and shopping it around to various press outlets,” [Craig] said.

Sure, campaigns do this all of the time. But this is a problem that is easily overcome by having somebody track your own campaign to ensure that your have own footage available as a safeguard to provide context and clarity in situations where the opposition engages in selective editing or other funny business.
I can understand the frustration that a candidate might have with using trackers, but unfortunately in this day and age it is political malpractice to not be using them in a major statewide race…

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