Off track campaigning

Posted April 09, 2010, at 6:17 p.m.

Everyone else is doing it” is one of the worst excuses for bad behavior that parents are forced to endure. Voters shouldn’t have to endure to this lame rationale either.

Yet, that’s what they’re told when it comes to the practice of tracking, which involves closely following candidates and recording their every move in hopes of capturing a gaffe or misstatement to use in a commercial.

The practice has been used sporadically in Maine, but made an early entry into the campaign this year.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler appears to be drawing the closes scrutiny, which is at once a flattering endorsement of his role as a front runner in the race and an annoyance he and other candidates shouldn’t simply “get used to,” as the Republican National Committee suggested.

Although the political payback of having a political zinger to use against an opponent is likely greater than the short-term criticism of tracking, as University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer told the Portland Press Herald, Maine voters have the right to demand better.

“Obviously, what you’re trying to do is capture moments when people are inconsistent or contradict themselves. Campaigns that are not doing this are missing the boat,” Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, told the paper. He also said the association should follow Mr. Cutler more if it bugs him so much. The Democratic Governors Association is likely to employ tracking too.

Campaigns can be lost by saying inconsistent things — or in the most well-known case of tracking, racial slurs. Virginia Sen. George Allen lost re-election in 2006 when he was caught on tape calling a volunteer of Indian descent to his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb as “macaca” and welcomed him to America.

But, as Mr. Cutler said in a letter to Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, much is lost when the focus of political campaigns is on such incidents, rather than issues and ideas.

“I look forward to a spirited campaign against the Republican and Democratic nominees,” Mr. Cutler wrote. “We have a lot to talk about here in Maine, and I hope that this will be a campaign based on the ideas, experience and vision that each candidate has for turning our state around.”

It may be a quaint notion, but voters should want to hear how a candidate will cut state spending, hold the line on taxes and improve the state’s public schools, not whether what she said in March conflicts with what she said yesterday.

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