Who tracks the trackers?

Monday could have been a very good day for gubernatorial hopeful Mark Dayton. He called a press conference, and why? Perhaps it was to announce that the AFL-CIO is backing him, as Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio’s Polinaut blog reported. That’s nothing to sneeze at, as the union represents some 300,000 people. Additionally, Dayton got the support of Education Minnesota, the Carpenters and MAPE, so that could have been a pretty big announcement. But, no, he issued a statement regarding these events.

Dayton has promised not to go negative, but, presuming that doesn’t preclude legitimate discussion of his opponents’ track records, there are a few things Dayton could have mentioned. For instance, he could have discussed the Legacy Act, which, as Erin Carlyle of City Pages summarizes it, “dedicates sales tax to funding for parks, the outdoors and the arts.” GOP candidate Tom Emmer supports it — now. But he opposed it before it became law, and Dayton has already managed to launch one clever riposte in response to Emmer’s newfound support for the act, calling it a “deathbed conversion” and saying, “The only trouble with deathbed conversions is they seldom last if the patient recovers.” But Dayton did not call Monday’s press conference to revisit that zinger.

He could have reiterated the charges against Emmer brought in a series of ads from the Alliance for a Better Minnesota Action Fund, discussed by Andy Birkey of Minnesota Independent, which claims that, as state representative, Emmer missed about one in five votes. The Fund has posted a PDF of its supporting facts, and Emmer does seem to have missed a lot of votes, whereas Dayton, during his tenure in the Senate, missed all of 3 percent of the roll calls, according to govtrack.us.

Of course, that’s the same terms of service that disappointed Dayton so badly that he gave himself an “F,” a point that his opponents have hammered hard, without mentioning the context, which can be found in this Associated Press story from 1996; according to Dayton, he was stymied in every attempt to pass meaningful legislation by being a member of the minority party in Congress. Nonetheless, you couldn’t really blame Dayton if he didn’t want to bring up his work as a senator at Monday’s press conference, and he didn’t.

So what the heck did he want to talk about? Political trackers. For those of you who are not familiar with this practice, trackers are hired, or volunteer, for a party to follow around the opposition and film them on digital video cameras. The reasoning is simple — they try to catch their opponents saying or doing something that can be used against them, what we’ll call a politician’s “macaca” moment, after the flub that embarrassed Sen. George Allen back in 2006, and possibly cost him at shot at the presidency. (The use of trackers is discussed by the Hartford Courant here).

There’s already been one incident that Dayton’s opponents have attempted to milk for outrage, summed up for maximum spin in Minnesota Democrats Exposed: On Aug. 12, Dayton left his dogs in his car when he went to a meeting; it was a very hot day, about 90 degrees, and so MDE’s Luke Hellier has taken it upon himself to repeatedly tweet about Dayton being abusive to his dogs. Is this fair? Well, according to the very FOX9 report that MDE reposted, Dayton’s campaign says the dogs were parked in the shade and had their windows open. Additionally, this story broke because a tracker caught Dayton on his phone to his assistant asking that the assistant check on the dogs and turn the air conditioning on.

This story has not gotten much traction outside the spin zone, probably because there is no actual evidence whatsoever that Dayton’s dogs suffered, and because Dayton is actually caught on film trying to make sure his dogs are comfortable; Dayton claims there is no connection between the dog story and his press conference, but the timing does seem precipitous, especially as his charge, reported by MinnPost’s Jay Weiner, is that the trackers are overly aggressive. Tom Scheck fleshes out the details on Polinaut: According to Dayton, trackers have crossed a line over into intimidation, and he showed a video of GOP trackers “blocking his campaign booth at Game Fair in Anoka on Saturday.” He held the conference to demand changes to the way political tracking is done, including having trackers only videotape public forums and speeches of the candidates, as well as requiring trackers to identify themselves.

It’s not a request that is likely to get much more than scoffed at — trackers have proven to be an effective political tool, and both sides make extensive use of them. Even Jeff Rosenberg of MNPublius feels Dayton went too far; while he sympathizes with how disruptive trackers can be (especially now that they are using flip cameras, which requires them to get in close to a candidate, potentially blocking the public), according to Rosenberg, Dayton’s demand “was a mistake, and an unfortunate one, because it distracted from what was a legitimate point.”

But enough about Dayton for today. There are other politicians, and there is other political news. There is our outgoing governor, Tim Pawlenty, as an example, who everybody assumes has quietly been running for president for a while now, even though he won’t admit it. This has included several trips to Iowa lately, and how has that worked out? According to an Iowa caucus poll reported by The Iowa Republican, Pawlenty tied for last place with John Thune, each receiving only 1 percent of the vote. Pawlenty has some work ahead of him if he hopes to catch the frontrunner, Mike Huckabee, who got 22 percent of the vote, but at least he isn’t trailing Sarah Palin by too much — she clocked in at a disappointing 11 percent, which is only 1,100 percent of the votes that Pawlenty got.

Pawlenty’s still swinging, though — against Obama, as on Sean Hannity’s evening Fox News television show, reported by MinnPost’s Derek Wallbank. According to Pawlenty, “The American people don’t like to be played for suckers, they don’t like to be sold one thing and have something else delivered,” adding, “That’s what happened with the election of President Obama, he ran as somebody who was going to be reasonable, perhaps even pragmatic, and now his true liberal ideology is coming out as he’s governing as a misguided liberal.”

And what of the proposed Muslim community center near Ground Zero, which Obama has supported? According to Paul Schmelzer of Minnesota Independent, on “Hannity,” Pawlenty responded to Obama’s comment that “Our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable,” by saying, “I think it’s another example of him playing the role of law professor.” That seems a strangely dismissive statement from Pawlenty who is, after all, a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. Presumably, Pawlenty’s experience with law professors is that they teach, well, law, and he would have respect for that. But perhaps he simply meant that Obama was play-acting at being a law professor, and speaking above his actual understanding of the law. But, then, according to FactCheck.org, Obama actually was a law professor — and lectured on constitutional law. One supposed a third case might be made that Pawlenty feels this is not a legal issue, but one of taste, and Obama is missing the point by discussing it exclusively in terms of law. If that is the case, one cannot help but wonder about the strip club that is the same distance from Ground Zero as the proposed Muslim community center would be.

Let us discuss Rep. Michele Bachmann as well, but just for a moment. Bachmann has released an ad claiming that the $26 billion aid package to the state is “payback” for liberal groups who support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. WCCO’s Pat Kessler fact-checks this and call the ad, in all caps, MISLEADING. One more quick story: Annie Baxter of Minnesota Public Radio reports that the race between Bachmann and contender Sen. Tarryl Clark is one of the most expensive in the country.

In arts: The Pioneer Press reports that the Fringe Festival busted its attendance record this year, issuing more than 50,000 tickets. The big sellers this year were Fringe regulars Joe Scrimshaw with his show “The Damn Audition,” and comedy team Ferrari McSpeedy with their show “Speech.” One would hope these top slots would be honored with a crowning ceremony, in which the shows’ creators are granted tiaras and sparkling wands, but this did not happen, except, of course, in private.

In sports: Oh man, we’re back to Dayton. But it’s worth mentioning that he held his own in discussions of hunting when he was quizzed on getting an “F” rating from the NRA. Not only did Dayton wax lyrical about the guns he owns and the the animals he hunts, but he also pointed out the rating exclusively comes from his opposition to so-called “cop killer” bullets. “How many of you own cop killer bullets and use them against police officers? Raise your hand,” Dayton asked a crowd. “Nobody, Representative Emmer, nobody. Nobody.” Daily Planet has the video and transcript.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/17/2010 - 10:37 am.

    Speaking of “trackers…”

    I suspect that, now that it has become known that GOP trackers are not just tracking and recording, but interfering with opposing candidates, others will begin to “interfere” a bit with those who are doing the interfering.

    Have flashlight, will travel (like a nice. black, 6 cell maglight)?

    Have squirt gun filled with garlic water, or skunk water, or cheap-but-very-persistent cologne or perfume that a young republican wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, will travel?

    Have 6’9″ professional wrestler or football player-type ready to travel and only too happy to plant himself in the way of trackers and intimidate them with a little tummy bump to their puny little cameras, once in awhile? Why not? (how could you accuse a tummy bumper in a crowd of anything)?

    Any young DFL’ers interested in unofficially assisting Dayton with “crowd” control?

    Of course the DFL could always take the Andrew Breitbart approach to tracking and string together phrases from a Horner or Emmer speech to make them say something the candidate never ACTUALLY said, then release it without any vetting on the internet…

    Nah, no need to do that, both gentlemen (and I use the term loosely, in Emmer’s case) have provided and are currently providing plenty of offensive and outrageous speech all by themselves.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/17/2010 - 10:39 am.

    The governor’s statements reflect a political opportunist who is competing with with other and better opportunists such as Ms. Palin and Mr. Gingrich to outdo one another.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 08/17/2010 - 11:04 am.

    What’s worrisome is that with Newt and Sarah going off the deep end with their far-out comments, Tim will begin to look like a rational choice. We Minnesotans have suffered for eight long years with such “rationality”!

  4. Submitted by Brian Simon on 08/17/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    Marcia Brekke writes
    “Tim will begin to look like a rational choice.”

    He beat DFLers here, twice, because he is very, very good at the art of selling himself to particular audiences. Pawlenty will do better in 2012 than most people expect.

  5. Submitted by David Willard on 08/17/2010 - 01:15 pm.

    Boy the Daily Glean reads like a tract of DFL/D talking points. Very nice, but nothing we couldn’t get from the Stibune. Minnpost is an alternative to WHAT, exactly? I forget.

  6. Submitted by Max Sparber on 08/17/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    Mr. Williard, I imagine you perceive there to be some untruth to today’s Glean — that, rather than being an accurate assessment of the day’s news, it is a distortion of the facts in order to favor one political viewpoint. If that is your viewpoint, it usually isn’t a bad idea to point out precisely where the truth is being distorted or misstated.

    I do enjoy imagining that the DFL called me today to ask me to spend eight paragraphs questioning the wisdom of Dayton discussing trackers. I am not certain why this is a DFL talking point, but there must be some logic behind it, as that is what you have accused me of doing.

    I do fact check charges made by one candidate against another, or one party against another. I suspect those who are charging Dayton with being crazy, or being a dog abuser, or having given himself an F for his term in senate, might prefer I not look into it, as the charges are considerably mediated by context. I also looked into the charge that Emmer missed 20 percent of his votes, and found those charging it had substantiated it, and nobody had provided any additional context that mediated it.

    My loyalty is to the truth. Not to a party’s talking points.

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/17/2010 - 01:49 pm.

    HMMM, I wonder what Strib some of us are reading? I, for one, deserted the Strib, except for an occasional glance, after having it as my home page for several years, when new, more conservative owners who WAY overleveraged it in their takeover, forced it to lurch massively toward the right, forced it into bankruptcy, and dumped all it’s best, most experienced, most qualified reporters.

    But then some folks, determined, I suspect to try to drive the Strib to the right of the PPress, probably all the way into the territory of the “The Birch Log,” where they feel more comfortable, since they’re never challenged to give even the slightest thought to the accuracy of their own pet notions, still think of it, in their own addled brains, as “The Red Star.”

  8. Submitted by chuck holtman on 08/17/2010 - 01:56 pm.

    In the Strib, a Republican spokesperson described to Mr Dayton’s criticism of the trackers as “bizarre” and “erratic.” The strategy could not be more transparent: attempt to provoke Dayton and then label his response as “bizarre” and “erratic.” It’s the strategy and it will be applied over and over and over, so Dayton and the DFL had better decide how to respond to it. And given the encouragement of thuggery within the Republican party at this point in history, we can expect the provocations to become more and more thuggish. Ugly times ahead.

  9. Submitted by r batnes on 08/17/2010 - 03:51 pm.

    Brian Simon says:

    “He beat DFLers here, twice, because he is very, very good at the art of selling himself to particular audiences. Pawlenty will do better in 2012 than most people expect.”

    Brian, he won the last election by less than a 2% margin because Mike Hatch lost his temper. Had Hutchinson not grabbed another 7%, we would not have been subjected to a second term from this man.

  10. Submitted by Rod Loper on 08/18/2010 - 09:10 am.

    There is nothing new about trackers. Wellstone
    would never let himself be seen with a woman
    without his wife nearby for this reason.

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