We should not be surprised that Maine’s politics have entered the YouTube era, when any unscripted slip can become an indelible image, downloaded instantly on your mobile device.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler made some news this week when he complained about a campaign “tracker,” who was videotaping his public events as he traveled the state.

Cutler (whose campaign treasurer is Robert C.S. Monks, an investor in and director of MaineToday Media, the parent company of this newspaper) wrote a note to her employer, the Republican Governors Association, which is collecting the tape for a possible TV ad in the fall if Cutler is seen as a threat to a still unnamed contender.

“Your party’s employment of a paid tracker at this early stage of the campaign — especially one who deliberately lies about who she is — unfortunately leads me to conclude that Maine voters are going to be treated this year to more of the same old slash-and-burn politics that has turned off so many people,” he wrote.

If Cutler was looking for the organization to change, it’s not what he got.

“It tells us that we’re going to need to keep following him around if it bugs him so much,” said the RGA’s Tim Murtaugh.

The use of trackers is not new in Maine, but it is likely to become more common.

Campaigns are looking for the “Macaca moment,” a reference to then-Sen. George Allen’s use of a racial slur, captured on video by an opponent’s staffer during his 2006 campaign for re-election. That piece of video may have cost Allen the election and ended talk of his presidential aspirations.

As candidates become increasingly scripted and formal, any interruption of the message can be devastating.

It would be better if campaigns focused on drawing real contrasts between candidates and their positions that would help voters make up their minds, instead of just looking for ways to exploit their opponents’ errors. It would be better still if they used their time in the limelight to make the case for what they would do if elected.

Voters should just file these YouTube clips away as another piece of information that says as much about the candidate who paid for it as it does about the one on the screen.


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