How DARE they run against Democrats! Across the country Democrats are stalking Republican candidates and posting the raw footage on line. We are not talking about showing up and video taping town halls, no these operatives are taking pictures of candidate’s homes and following them as they do normal household activities.
That ratcheting up of the video surveillance game is unnerving Republicans who insist that even by political standards, it’s a gross invasion of privacy. Worse, they say, it creates a safety risk for members of Congress and their families at a time when they are already on edge after a deranged gunman shot former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords 18 months ago.
Wisconsin GOP Rep. Reid Ribble, who said he’s also been followed by a cameraman when shopping for groceries, said the home videos cross a line.
“I feel it’s totally inappropriate,” said Ribble, a freshman facing a competitive race for reelection. “It was disturbing to me that they would put that online. I don’t understand any political benefit that can be achieved with that.”
In Ribble’s case, a clip of his northeastern Wisconsin home appeared online June 18. The soundless video — which lasts 38 seconds — is taken from a car sitting just outside the house. The shot pans across the large home, showing it from several different angles.
DeaNa Ribble, the congressman’s wife, said it is deeply unsettling.
“I’m more creeped out about this than Reid is, just because I’m home more,” she said. “If they so much as put a foot on private property, I will be the first person to call the police.”
Republicans whose homes have been videotaped say they understand that politics is a contact sport and that every public utterance they make is fair game. But, they argue, filming a home — and posting actual addresses — ought to be off-limits, if only out of respect for their families and neighbors.
“I think your family or your personal life should be off-limits unless it enters the campaign,” said Ohio Rep. Jim Renacci, who said a neighbor informed him that a tracker had been crouching in the bushes taking footage of the first-term congressman’s home. “It’s hard for my neighbors or my family to get comfortable when someone is in the bushes.”
His Wadsworth, Ohio, home is the subject of a 49-second video, which pans from a view of the mailbox on the left side of the house to the shrubbery on the right and then back and forth several times before cutting off.
“I think that goes a little too far,” said Renacci, who noted that his son told him he had seen the clip on YouTube.
Trackers assigned to California GOP candidate Ricky Gill, a highly touted challenger to Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney, pushed the edge of the envelope even further.
In May, a clip of Gill’s parents’ Lodi, Calif., mansion appeared online. The one-minute video shows the front of the huge home, a gated fence and vast front yard. The next month brought a three-minute video that begins by slowly passing by Gill’s home, with a cameraman overheard saying, “This is the house that he’s been registered to vote in since 2005.”
About one minute in, the video shifts to the University of California-Berkeley, campus, where the 25-year-old Gill recently finished studying law. The tracker waits in a hallway where Gill soon appears. As the candidate walks outside, the tracker follows in clandestine pursuit.
Gill declined to speak for this story. But a spokesman said, “I think anyone who sees pictures of their family’s home posted on the Internet would be a little concerned. … We would never post a picture of our opponent’s home on the Internet. We would never do that.”
One would think that as soon as the party leadership was asked about the practice they would back away, blaming the videotaping on over-zealous junior campaign workers. Not so fast. Democratic leadership knows and approves of the practice.
They say showcasing the homes — most of which are spacious and neatly maintained — underscores what will be a key avenue of attack for the party this fall: communicating that Republicans just can’t relate to economically struggling voters.
“House Republicans have spent this entire Congress trying to hide that they’re protecting benefits for millionaires and perks for themselves instead of protecting the middle class, but we won’t let them keep it secret any longer,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Jesse Ferguson wrote in an email.
Democratic officials said placing the videos on the DCCC’s website and YouTube serve a useful purpose, most notably making the footage available to friendly outside groups for use in TV commercials. That way, they don’t violate laws against coordinating with those groups.
Andy Stone, a spokesman for House Majority PAC, a super PAC that plans to spend millions targeting Republicans over the next four months, declined to comment on whether the organization will make use of the videos, saying it will “make race-by-race strategic assessments about the most effective course.”
This new practice of the Democrats crosses the line, it is quite simply an exercise in intimidation. These campaign stalkers are taping parts of these candidate’s lives that have no relevance to their public lives.
If this is now fair game, perhaps a film crew should camp outside DCCC Chairman Steve Israel’s new bachelor pad to see who goes in and comes out.