Gongwer News Service Editor Zach Gorchow says it's typical for politicians to spy on each other. But he's never seen one side as clumsy at it as the Republicans have been this year.
Recently, Democrats discovered a disk containing video taken at a fundraising event for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer at a home in suburban Detroit. The video was filmed through spyglasses worn by one Republican operative. This follows an incident where a volunteer with the Snyder campaign wore a CNN hat at a Schauer media event. Governor Rick Snyder's re-election campaign dismissed an intern who tried to volunteer for Schauer, in an apparent attempt to infiltrate the campaign. Gorchow says it's hard to know if it's happening more often, or if incidents are getting more attention.
Gorchow calls the video obtained with spyglasses "a window into what two keystone cops were doing." He says there is nothing damaging to the Schauer campaign. And worse for the Republicans is that the disk fell into the Democratic hands who then put the video on YouTube. "They had one job to do, which was to take that video, and they couldn't even do that."
Democrats have called the effort to get into a private fundraiser "Nixonian." Gorchow says tracking of candidates is very common in campaigns. He says that usually includes taking video at public events. Gorchow says what makes this different is that it took place in a private residence.
While the Snyder campaign dismissed the intern who tried to volunteer for the Schauer campaign, and distanced itself from the volunteer in a CNN hat, a Michigan Republican Party official says they will continue to track Schauer. Gorchow says the question is whether a line is crossed by going into a private residence.
Politicians in recent years have had to answer for things that were recorded at supposedly private events. Mitt Romey's comment that 47% of the voters were dependent on the government, and sure to vote for President Obama in the 2012 election, haunted the Republican nominee for the rest of the campaign. When running for President in 2008, Obama himself had to do damage control after a comment that people suffering economically "cling to guns and religion" became public. Gorchow says small devices that produce high quality video and audio mean "you can't have unguarded moments anymore." Gorchow says candidates have to exercise superior message discipline or risk having it come back to bite them.
The Schauer camp has worked to bring attention to the various episodes where Republicans appear to be trying to infiltrate the Democrat's campaign. Gorchow says Governor Snyder has enjoyed strong favorability ratings with voters, even when his job approval rating has suffered. He says Schauer's campaign appears to be trying to use the various incidents to undermine the idea that Snyder is "not a typical politician."
New fundraising numbers show that some challengers have been able to compete for dollars with incumbent members of Congress. One of those is the Third Congressional District where Brian Ellis has raised almost as much money as incumbent Representative Justin Amash. Ellis has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on the Republican primary challenge. Gorchow says often competitive fundraising indicates a competitive election. So far public polling has shown Amash with a comfortable lead. Gorchow says outside spending has also played a role in the Congressional race. The Club for Growth paid for a heavy advertising blitz earlier this year which boosted Amash and was critical of Ellis.
Still Gorchow says it's surprising that Ellis' money and endorsements from powerful groups like Right to Life and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce haven't made more a dent in the public opinion surveys. Gorchow says the biggest challenge for Ellis may be that Amash is over 50% in the most recent polls. Gorchow says it's tough enough to convince undecided voters to support you. But he says Ellis has to change minds. And Gorchow says Amash has proven to be very resilient.