Trackers have become standard operating procedure in today’s campaigns, as young operatives follow and record candidates’ every move and whisper with the hope of catching a gaffe. But up to this point, there has been rare bipartisan agreement that the Senate hallways were off limits.
“New low for 2018 campaign season- Rs are so threatened by @Heidi4ND they have a tracker waiting in the hall outside her Senate office #NDPol,” tweeted Tessa Gould on June 27. Gould is North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s chief of staff and former campaign.
When the tracker stood outside the Democratic senator’s fifth-floor office in the Hart Building for another few hours the following day, Gould spoke with him and tweeted out a photo.
“We don’t think Senators should be tracked in their offices and are following our longstanding policy to not do so,” said Lauren Passalacqua, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“In keeping with the long-standing tradition of comity and respect for the institution, there has been an unwritten rule that Senators and staff are free to conduct business and craft policy without the shenanigans,” a former senior official at the National Republican Senatorial Committee said.
An official currently with the NRSC confirmed that the tracker was not working for or with the committee, but not all GOP groups are on the same page when it comes to sacred ground. The tracker was with America Rising, the Republican-aligned PAC focused on collecting opposition research on Democrats.
“America Rising’s mission is to hold Democrats accountable for their increasingly liberal agenda, no matter where they go,” said Scott Sloofman, the group’s press secretary, who confirmed the tracker belonged to America Rising. “Given the Democrats’ huge loss in North Dakota last year, it’s no surprise that Senator Heitkamp wouldn’t want her voters knowing about what she’s doing in Washington.”
Heitkamp was first elected to the Senate in 2012 in a narrow 50-49 percent victory over GOP Rep. Rick Berg, but Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 64-28 percent in last year’s presidential race. Heitkamp’s re-election race is currently rated a Toss-Up by Inside Elections.
The senator and her staff aren’t just griping about trackers in general. They are a regular part of the campaign back in North Dakota, and as recently as a month ago, Heitkamp tweeted a picture of herself with Sterling Silver, America Rising’s tracker in the state, with big smiles and warm side hug.
Sterling is a tracker w/ America Rising who's following me around. Nice guy so won't hold it against him. Intro urself 2 him when u see him! pic.twitter.com/NE7F94S7IJ— Heidi Heitkamp (@Heidi4ND) June 1, 2017
Even though the hallway truce is between the two party campaign committees, America Rising’s Democratic counterpart isn’t as anxious to follow suit. “We do not currently have trackers in the Capitol, and have no plans for that,” said Joshua Karp, communications director for Senate campaigns for American Bridge.
America Rising has been ignoring the bipartisan agreement for years now (Buzzfeed wrote about their efforts back in 2013). Despite those tactics, the official campaign committees have held their ground for observing the hallway truce. But as the cycle heats up, the temptation to bypass tradition and blame the other side might be too much to resist.