It's not the most glamorous job in politics, but it's an increasingly important one.
Democrats and Republicans send camera-wielding spies &
known as trackers &
to each other's campaign events, hoping to catch a gaffe or flip-flop that can be put on YouTube or in a negative TV ad.
But even in the world of gotcha politics, there's apparently some rules of etiquette.
Russ Kelley, the campaign spokesman for U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley, said he recently spotted a young man with a video camera at a Merkley event. Kelley said he approached him, and learned his name was "Tim."
Kelley had a photo taken of Tim to pass around to help others ID the latest opposition tracker.
On Thursday, the Merkley campaign got an e-mail sent from an address with "Merkster2008." The message said it was sent by Tim Lussier, who wrote that he was "a local activist and a big fan" of the Democrat and would "love to find out when I can see him speak."
But Lussier's MySpace page didn't paint him as a Democrat. It features a photo of Lussier posing with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The Merkley campaign also learned he's active in student government at Clackamas Community College and with Young Republican organizations.
The same day, Kelley said, the Merkley campaign got a phone call from someone who identified himself as "Tim Thompson," asking about a private fundraiser that night. He provided a phone number that turned out to be the number of a business owned by Tim Lussier's dad.
Kelley said he doesn't mind that Lussier tracks Merkley, but he must follow the rules of engagement.
"This is the worst job in politics," Kelley said. "You have to show up at an event where people don't like you and don't like the guy you're working for. ... I've been in this position. I get it," he said.
"But there's an honest way to do it, and there's a dishonest way to do it," Kelley said, adding: "You don't call and misrepresent yourself. And you especially can't do that and get caught."
It turns out that Lussier is an employee of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to committee spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher.
Lussier did not return two calls to his cell phone placed by The Register-Guard newspaper.
Though Lussier does not work for Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, Smith spokesman R.C. Hammond said he has met him. Asked about his tactics, Hammond said: "Our experience with trackers during this campaign has come from watching the Democrats and their effort to catch the Bob Saget moment of Gordon Smith somewhere running around Oregon."
Merkley spokesman complains about campaign 'tracker'