In campaign politics, a “tracker” is staff member or volunteer from a candidate’s campaign team or from an opposition group assigned to, quite literally, track an opponent’s campaign stops and public appearances. The hope is to make sure no gaffe, flaw or mistake goes undocumented. Depending on which side of the camera you’re on, these guys can be your best friend or your worst nightmare.
Trackers have been around for decades and, one could argue, responsible for the death of a number of seemingly well-oiled campaign machines. You would think that there would be less of a demand now that almost everyone has a camera on his or her phone, but there are more trackers in every campaign cycle. As their ranks grow, so too does the frustration of the candidates being filmed.
This week saw one of the more unusual attempts at blocking a tracker’s lens when Rand Paul’s New Hampshire Political Director, David Chelsey, decided that standing in front of a camera from an American Bridge, a progressive opposition research and communications organization, tracker wasn’t enough. Chelsey licked—yes, licked—the lens to obstruct the tracker’s shot. (Click here to see American Bridge’s video of the incident.)
The point of trackers, however annoying they may be, is to record public events, so one has to question the wisdom of going to such an extreme to prevent filming when the media was already present. Some trackers have been known to fire off questions whose sole purpose is getting a rise out of a candidate. In the early stages of any campaign, especially a wide-open Presidential primary, the smallest off-the-cuff remarks or minute mistakes can tank even the strongest of campaigns. Though it may have been unorthodox—and not to mention pretty gross—Chelsey’s maneuver may have just been crazy enough to work. No one is talking about what Rand Paul actually said at that campaign stop and his name is being repeated in hundreds of stories and think-pieces as I type.
Still, we won’t recommend this strategy for dealing with a tracker to any of our public affairs clients anytime soon.