Trackers’ now a weapon in the modern campaign arsenal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A weekend run-in between Democrat Attorney General Darrell McGraw and a Republican campaign staffer who was following him illustrates the seemingly omnipresent beings modern politicians have to deal with: trackers.
Both parties use trackers, who are typically young campaign staffers getting their foot in the door.
The trackers carry handheld cameras and follow candidates from the opposing side. They go to parades, rallies, lunches, dinners, airports - anything to film The Other Guy.
Their hope is to catch an embarrassing moment or gaffe - or even an unusual moment of candor - that can be weaponized into an attack of some sort.
Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey's campaign thinks its footage of McGraw is just this sort of thing.
As of Monday afternoon, 6,400 people had watched videos on YouTube of the incident, which ends with McGraw swatting at a camera held by Morrisey's 24-year-old tracker, Justin Lafferty.
The Morrisey campaign said Lafferty was "attacked."
The incident took place as candidates attended the West Virginia Pumpkin Festival Parade, and Milton Police Chief Gary Lilly told The Associated Press that he had received no report on the occurrence.
The Morrisey campaign released a letter from Lafferty to McGraw asking for an apology. Neither McGraw nor his campaign returned calls seeking comment.
Morrisey clearly hopes the footage will be akin to the 2004 "Scream at Racine" that was credited with helping to bring down McGraw's brother, state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw.
Warren McGraw was filmed at the annual Labor Day picnic in Racine ranting about his opponents following him.
"They follow us looking for ugly," he said, referring to trackers.
Warren McGraw's opponent, Brent Benjamin, used the raw footage - filmed by a tracker - to cut an award-winning ad against McGraw.
It's not just Democrats who lament the tracking, of course.
At the state Republican Party convention this summer, U.S. Senate challenger John Raese compared his tracker to a "little communist" that was assigned to him and his wife during a trade mission they made to China.
"Wherever we went, the little communist went with us. Touching," Raese deadpanned. "So, (Democratic Party Chairman) Larry Puccio reminds me of that episode because now everywhere I go, I have a Democratic tracker that goes with me everywhere. Now, you would wonder why anyone would want a government like that - like that - because that's what's going on."
Tracking is now routine for campaigns. Last month, a reporter came across a cache on YouTube of scores of videos and audio clips of Republican candidates.
Democrats maintained the page, Democratic Party executive director Derek Scarbro confirmed.
"The West Virginia Democratic Party employs research staff who videotape candidates' speeches and press conferences, but our staff does not invade people's personal space," Scarbro said Monday. "We maintain a respectful distance and hold our staff to a high standard."
He accused Morrisey of teaching his staff "tricks."
The cache of Democratic videos has seen been moved. The cache included videos of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney and audio of a Morrisey radio interview, among many other video or audio clips.
The Morrisey campaign released about three minutes of the McGraw footage on Saturday. It begins with McGraw facing questions from Cabell County House of Delegates candidate Joyce Holland, a Republican. McGraw accused her of asking questions simply to film him. She said she was not "personally" filming McGraw.
"Is this person doing that?" McGraw said, turning to nearby Lafferty. "Well, he's not welcome to use my physiognomy in this."
Holland and McGraw then walked away from the camera to talk. McGraw quickly returned to a group of other Democratic candidates, including state Treasurer John Perdue, and called Holland "deceitful."
Then there's a break in the footage. The camera was turned off, a Morrisey spokesman said. It's unclear what happened during that period.
Shortly after the camera was turned back on, McGraw asked Lafferty if he was a "stalker" and then suddenly cupped his hand over the camera. There, the footage ends. It's unclear what happened after that.