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A “tracker” is an individual who is tasked with closely following and documenting the public appearances, speeches, and activities of a political candidate, particularly an opponent.

The primary goal of a tracker is to gather information that could be useful for their own campaign, whether it’s to anticipate the opponent’s strategies, respond to their claims, or in some cases, capture controversial or damaging statements.

Trackers are typically employed by political campaigns, parties, or political action committees.

They attend public events like town halls, speeches, rallies, or even parades where the opposing candidate is present.

Armed with recording equipment, they document the candidate’s statements and interactions, aiming to capture every moment on video or audio.

In the digital age, this can also extend to monitoring a candidate’s social media platforms and public statements online.

The role of a tracker can be crucial in a political campaign.

The information they gather can help their own campaign prepare for debates, develop responses to policy positions, or create advertising material.

In some instances, footage or information gathered by trackers has been used to fuel negative advertising, expose contradictions, or highlight controversial statements.

Critics say that the constant surveillance contributes to a negative and hostile political climate, where a single misstep can be blown out of proportion.

More on “Tracker”

A campaign staffer sent to record on video every public appearance of the opposition candidate. Trackers are usually young people, fresh out of college, looking for a way into politics.

It’s often a thankless task, because politicians these days have become so adept at staying so on-message. For every gaffe that goes viral, the trackers record hundreds of hours of pure tedium.

But occasionally the candidate the tracker is tailing slips up. Take an April 2012 town hall appearance by Republican representative Allen West of Florida.

The legislator was asked, “What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or international socialists?”

Some in the audience laughed. West, however, responded: “No, that’s a good question. I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party.”

The remark was reported on local news sites. But what gave it legs, propelled by left-leaning sites like Huffington Post and overtly liberal ThinkProgress—was the fact that it was caught on video. West lost narrowly that November after a single term.

The gold standard of political tracking remains the summer 2006 taping of Senator George Allen of Virginia. A telegenic former governor, state legislator, and congressman, Allen had his eye on the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

But Allen got too far ahead of himself in his race against former Navy secretary and author Jim Webb. Allen twice used the word “macaca” to refer to the dark-complexioned S. R. Sidarth, who was filming as a tracker for Webb’s campaign and who was of Indian ancestry.

Allen’s “Macaca moment” quickly went viral online and on television. Webb eked out a narrow victory, effectively ending Allen’s political career.

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Tracker” in a sentence

  • The campaign hired a tracker to attend the opponent’s rallies and speeches, hoping to capture any statements that could be used in their own strategy or messaging.
  • As a tracker for the party, her job was to monitor the social media platforms and public appearances of the opposing candidate, documenting any potential missteps or controversial statements.
  • Despite the criticism of their role, trackers have become an integral part of modern political campaigns, providing valuable information that can shape debate strategies and campaign messaging.