By HOPPY KERCHEVAL
MORGANTOWN — It’s a common practice for campaigns to send out trackers to follow their opponent’s every move. Trackers videotape candidates’ speeches and interaction with voters.
The high-minded objective of a tracker is to get a candidate on the record so he or she can be held accountable for what is said.
But mostly, trackers want to catch the candidate doing or saying something stupid or embarrassing.
Campaign strategists warn candidates about trackers and tell them never to engage them.
State Attorney General Darrell McGraw didn’t get the memo.
Campaigning with several other Democrats at the Pumpkin Parade in Milton, McGraw had a confrontation with Justin Lafferty, a 24-year-old campaign staffer for McGraw’s challenger, Republican Patrick Morrisey.
Lafferty was taping McGraw with a flip cam while he was having an informal debate with a woman identified as a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates.
McGraw approached Lafferty, asked him a couple of peculiar questions, including, “Are you a stalker?”
An unidentified woman stepped in and told Lafferty, “We don’t do this down here.”
At that point, it appears McGraw grabbed the camera away from Lafferty and turned it off. Lafferty eventually got the camera back from a McGraw staffer.
The Morrisey campaign seized on the incident, which it labeled an “attack.”
That’s a stretch, since Lafferty was not physically harmed and no criminal charges have been filed.
The Morrisey camp wants voters to equate McGraw’s actions to that of his brother, Warren McGraw, during a labor rally at Racine in 2004.
Warren McGraw, then a state Supreme Court Justice running for re-election, delivered an unhinged and paranoid rant that contributed to his defeat.
Darrell McGraw is an idiosyncratic man.
His supporters — and there have been enough to elect him to state Supreme Court once and the Attorney General’s Office five times — see him as an intellectually gifted advocate.
His detractors criticize him for using money from legal settlements to promote himself and his office.
McGraw has a race on his hands this time. Morrisey has raised enough money to mount a viable statewide campaign.
But Morrisey is frustrated that McGraw won’t debate him. Morrisey says if McGraw would meet him on the debate platform, he would pull the tracker.
Embarrassing moments caught on video can make a difference, especially in a close race.
In 2006, Republican George Allen narrowly lost to Democrat Jim Webb in the U.S. Senate race in Virginia after video surfaced of Allen singling out the Webb tracker in the crowd and calling the young man of Indian heritage “Macaca.”
In Milton, McGraw’s camera grab wasn’t a “Macaca Moment,” and it doesn’t rise to the level of the “Rant in Racine.”
What it does show is the attorney general of the state losing his cool under pressure, and behaving in a way that is unbecoming to the office and embarrassing to him personally.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.