Have you arrived as a candidate when a political tracker is assigned to follow you around? Trackers are hired by opposition campaigns to film and record gotcha moments. Trackers are now standard stuff. Petitioning candidate for governor Jonathan Pelto, a frequent critic of Governor Dan Malloy, has now entered the track-me world. Pelto has a number of supporters in Bridgeport toiling for petition signatures so he qualifies for the ballot. In his latest commentary Pelto shares his observations about the tracker. We also learn Pelto eschews tighty whities.
Following my speech to the Working Families Party last Saturday, I held an informal press conference outside the hall with members of the Connecticut media. While a few of the reporters are relatively new to the state, I’ve known others for well over 30 years. I have tremendous respect for the role real journalists play in our society and I always try to be responsive to their questions. Plus, without a big campaign coffer to pay for television ads, media attention will be the most important way for me to get my message and candidacy out to the voters of Connecticut.
As the reporters “peppered” me with questions, a young man that I didn’t recognize recorded every moment on his hand-held video recorder.
As our discussion in the midday sun came to end, one of the reporters was kind enough to introduce me to the videographer. Although, alas, I did not catch his name, I did catch that he is the Malloy staff person who has been assigned to be my tracker.
What is a political tracker?
Gail Collins is a columnist for the New York Times. Best known as the first woman ever to serve as the New York Times’ Editorial Page Editor, Gail is known to us in Connecticut as the person who founded the Connecticut State News Bureau, a news service providing coverage of the state capital and Connecticut politics and wrote for a number of Connecticut publications before moving on to the national level.
In a 2012 commentary piece, Gail Collins explained,
“The trackers are the people hired to follow around a candidate’s opponent and record every single thing he says or does. Maybe he’ll get tired and admit to an audience that he forged his college diploma or that he’s wanted for cattle rustling in Wyoming. Probably not. But it is possible …
So no campaign should be without an opposition tracker. Honestly, if a candidate for the U.S. Senate is not being constantly trailed by some earnest young person with an HD camera, it means that she is so hopelessly behind in the polls that nobody cares if she crashes her car into an Adopt-a-Pet van. It’s sort of insulting. I’ll bet there are borderline candidates out there who hire someone to pose as a tracker just so people will think they’re being taken seriously.
You may be wondering about job requirements. Chris Harris, the spokesman for American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic research organization that employs 18 trackers, says they need to be “part cinematographer and part political operative” as well as “generally versed in policy and history.”
However, the most critical qualification for a tracker is to know what the trackee looks like. This came up recently in Indiana when a man who was hired to track Representative Joe Donnelly, the Democratic Senate candidate, mistakenly wound up tailing a criminal court judge named Jose Salinas, who believed that he was being stalked by an aggrieved former defendant and went to the police.”
In my case, I’m cautiously optimistic that my tracker will be able to recognize my distinctive look because the whole situation reminds me of Steve Martin’s epic statement in the 1979 movie “The Jerk” when he said
“The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need. My name in print. That really makes somebody. Things are going to start happening to me now!”
That said, I hope that my tracker doesn’t film me in my boxers taking out the dog, but I suppose I should try to live by the words attributed to the great P.T. Barnum who is supposed to have said, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”
The only odd thing was that when I asked him if he was working for the Malloy campaign he said that he was actually employed by Connecticut’s Democratic State Central Committee.
So let me just close with a “thank you” for all those who made donations to the Connecticut Democratic Party thinking it would help create a better, more progressive agenda for our state … Your dollars are paying for a political tracker to follow me around and I suppose I should be honored, so thanks.