August 23, 2010

Cutler, Mitchell camps upset by 'trackers' with video cameras

Democrats took heat for the practice in 2008 and now say the GOP is using it as an 'intimidation tool.'

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

The Maine Democratic Party and the campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell are complaining about the behavior of a campaign tracker paid by the Republican Governors Association.

Similar complaints were raised by independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler's campaign about a different Republican tracker earlier in the year.

Trackers, used by Democrats and Republicans alike, are typically paid to videotape candidates at public appearances and other campaign events.

But Arden Manning, coordinated campaign director of the Maine Democratic Party, said the tracker following Mitchell is going too far.

"If it's a public event, I don't really care," he said. "The concern that I have is that it looks like the (Republican Governors Association) has tried to use tracking more as an intimidation tool, where they try to throw the candidates by having the tracker sort of right there all the time, as opposed to just trying to record a statement, which up until this point tracking has been used for."

Manning said photos released by the Mitchell campaign show Ryan Terrill, the Republican Governors Association's tracker, just a few feet away from Mitchell speaking to potential voters. A Maine Democratic Party news release also said Terrill recorded volunteers holding signs in the Winter Harbor Lobster Festival, even though no gubernatorial candidate was present.

"I don't have a full-time tracker right now, but we may in the future," Manning said.

He said instructions for any paid Democratic tracker would be to record public comments, never record private conversations, don't record interviews with reporters, never lie, be respectful, be polite and only record the candidate.

Manning said he was involved in the 2008 Maine U.S. Senate campaign between Democrat Tom Allen and Republican Susan Collins, when Democrats took heat for employing a tracker who closely followed the senator in a local parade.

He said the incident made the Democrats set up different ground rules for their trackers to give candidates more space.

"It's a juvenile thing to begin with and it's the kind of thing that really turns people off to politics, particularly partisan politics," said Ted O'Meara, campaign manager for Cutler.

Republican Governors Association spokesman Tim Murtaugh said he hasn't seen anything to lead him to believe his trackers are doing anything inappropriate.

"If the candidates are that worried about young people with cameras, then they have bigger problems than they know," he said. "We give our trackers very clear instructions: Be passive observers and never a participant in any event; do not actively engage the candidate; do not be aggressive or overly aggressive; do not be disruptive, be polite; when you are asked who you are and who you represent, tell the truth; and if asked to leave an event, make every effort to be able to stay, but in the end don't cause trouble.

John Morris, chief of staff for Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage, said the campaign had no opinion about trackers in general.

"We haven't paid anybody, we have no intention of paying anybody to be a tracker and, to be honest, I know nothing about it," Morris said.

O'Meara, of the Cutler camp, said if LePage denounced the practice the Republican trackers would leave.

"The tracker is being paid by the Republican Governors Association to help Paul LePage. And if Paul LePage finds the practice distasteful, like the vast majority of Maine people, all he has to do is call the RGA and say, 'Call this off,' " O'Meara said.

 

COOLIDGE CLAMBAKE

The Maine Republican Liberty Caucus is hosting a "Calvin Coolidge Clambake" at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Italian Heritage Center in Portland to raise money to help legislative candidates who embrace the idea of smaller government.

Former Rep. Ken Lindell of Frankfort is organizing the event.

The cost is $50 for a lobster dinner or $45 for a steak dinner. The keynote speaker is John Fund, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. 

CUTLER PROPOSES NEW OFFICE

Cutler says he would establish an Office of Regulatory Review and Repeal within the governor's office if elected.

The office would "repeal or change regulations that are standing in the way of job growth," according to an announcement from his campaign.

"We're going to look at every rule and regulation that's on the books, and we're going to ask Maine businesses to tell us about the unnecessary, unfair, unintelligible rules that are keeping them from growing and investing," he said in a news release. 

CONFIRMATIONS WEDNESDAY

State senators will return to the Capitol for one day Wednesday to vote on more than 70 people who have been nominated to various positions.

Some nominees are judges, others will serve on boards such as the retirement system, ethics commission and public utilities commission.

The session starts at 2 p.m. and is expected to take just a few hours. 

TWEET SPOTS

The 2010 gubernatorial election may be looked back on as the campaign year of the twit.

By which we mean Twitter, of course.

All the candidates have their own Twitter accounts promoting news releases, campaign stops, positions and other random thoughts in 140 characters or less.

Mitchell and Cutler have been tweeting pretty intensely -- or their campaigns have been, hard to say -- with several hundred updates each.

Independent Kevin Scott's got about 100 updates; LePage and independent Shawn Moody each have about half that.

But Mitchell, Cutler and LePage have something the other candidates don't: satirists. There is a parody Twitter account for each of the three, mocking them with concise and cutting tweets.

Mitchell's actual account is "libbyforgov." The parody account is "libbyforguv."

The bio of the mock account says it's "a parody of Libby Mitchell, who is herself a parody of herself."

A typical tweet? "Lessons for Maine GOP: The Legislature does not own any black helicopters."

"Lepage2010" is the candidate's official site, while "LePage4Gov" bills itself as the "Conductor of the Freedom Train," with tweets such as "I have scheduled 20 debates between now and the election. 17 of them are me debating myself on creationism."

And "Cutler2010" is mocked by "NotCutlerForME," a "parody of an independent candidate running as an independent because Maine is independent," and producing tweets like "The Bangor State Fair reminds me of my childhood. Because I grew up in Maine. Honestly. For Real. Look it up!"

It's unknown who is behind the sites or if it's one person or different people. Attempts to contact the authors were unsuccessful. And the campaigns mostly ignore the parodies. 

MORE POLL RESULTS

Rasmussen Reports released another poll last week that showed LePage leading the field with 38 percent, followed by Mitchell with 30 percent and Cutler at 16 percent. The poll did not ask the 500 likely voters they polled about the other two independents who will be on the ballot: Scott, of Andover; and Moody, of Gorham.

When you dig a little deeper into the poll, it shows that 23 percent view LePage "very favorably" and 17 percent view him "very unfavorably."

For Mitchell, the numbers are 22 percent very favorable and 20 percent very unfavorable.

On Cutler, 9 percent see him very favorably and 12 percent see him very unfavorably.

One other finding of interest: 41 percent of voters in Maine rate their personal finances as good or excellent, which is slightly higher than the national average.

Of course, that leaves more than 50 percent saying their finances aren't too good. 

DEMS CELEBRATE SOCIAL SECURITY

Several Democratic candidates will participate in an open forum to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Social Security program at noon Thursday at Chateau Cushnoc in Augusta.

Mitchell; U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District; Rep. Patsy Crockett, D-Augusta; and Maeghan Maloney, a Democratic candidate for House District 57 are all expected to attend, according to a news release.

The event is open to the public and voters are invited to come ask questions about government spending, housing and Medicare changes, according to the release. 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

rmetzler@mainetoday.com 

Matt Wickenheiser contributed to this week's column.

 

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