Brown and Warren Aren't Winning Votes Warring Over Cameramen

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Campaigns for Senator Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren traded words Monday over the other team’s treatment of “trackers,” political operatives who record the opposing candidates on camera, in a mini-spat that we can’t imagine is capturing the hearts of many voters.

It began with video that’s making its way around the web showing what the Brown campaign claims is a Warren aide knocking the camera out of the hand of a “tracker” and yelling at him.

Brown’s people called it “unacceptable.” The Warren campaign actually agreed that the confrontation was wrong, but said the man was a driver unaffiliated with the campaign. Democrats posted their own video in which they claim a Brown aide forcibly removed a Warren campaign tracker, apparently to demonstrate that there’s mistreatment on both sides.

By now, voters might be wondering what the heck a “tracker” is. Campaigns and opposition research firms deploy “trackers,” often amateur videographers, to public events with the goal of capturing footage of the candidate saying something embarrassing, in the hopes of sending it viral. Most famous among examples of successful tracking is the moment in 2006 when Senator George Allen called a tracker a “macaca” on camera, but tracker-sourced video clips pop up all the time, as when a videographer captured Rep. Steve King comparing immigration policy to the selection of hunting dogs at a small event in Iowa back in May.

The surveillance strategy is appealing to both parties for obvious reasons. Political opposition research is at its most effective when it shows words coming from the opposing candidate’s mouth because candidates can’t back away from them as easily. And campaigns can’t easily protest the presence of video cameras at public events that are simply recording the candidate’s public remarks, especially because there’s a camera pointed at them. But it does put into close quarters a group of campaign operatives and a cameraman eager to ruin their day, so you’d imagine there might be some tension. Still, the fact that Warren’s team claims the guy roughing up a tracker wasn’t affiliated with the campaign rings true: With dollars and attention being poured into the race from the national level, both campaigns are probably used to seeing these people everywhere, and they’d know how to get along with them as a fact of life. (You can see how the cameraman follows Warren closely at the beginning of the clip and she doesn’t even acknowledge him.)

As far as political expediency goes, though, like a reporter, a tracker is probably better off as a quiet observer, not a character in a political story. The Herald rounded up the opinions of local pundits on Tuesday, and Boston College political scientist Marc Landy’s quote seems pretty representative: “The idea that anyone’s vote will be changed by these shenanigans just defies imagination,” he said. We’d have to agree that while it makes for a mildly fun back-and-forth and some good YouTube watching, most voters probably don’t follow the mechanics and dynamics of relations between opposition researchers and campaigns. A day of headlines in which the campaigns explain the presence of trackers is probably not a day spent winning votes.