Political trackers record candidates and hope for ammo

It's the height of the 2018 midterms. Across the country, Democrats and Republicans are battling for control of a Congress that can green light the president's agenda — or stop it dead in its tracks. 

With so much at stake, political groups have prioritized one job every campaign cycle that, when it works, can change an election. 

Cameron Mason was a political tracker for the Republican group America Rising during the 2014 midterms. His job was to record anything and everything Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn said during the campaign so Republicans could use it against her. 

"They sent me a camera and I went at it," Mason told Fox 5. "The best outcome is to get a candidate saying something that would ruin them, you know, in the polls and in the press — in voter's eyes to help the other person win."

America Rising employs 25 full-time and over 200 part-time trackers across the country. 

On the Democratic side, the group American Bridge has 35 full-time trackers and says they've covered over 10,000 events this campaign cycle. 

Political groups on both sides, all recording and cataloging hundreds of hours of video of today's candidates, to be deployed against today's candidates. 

"I think we're past the point in American politics where one gotcha moment is the death knell of a campaign," America Rising Executive Director Alex Wilkes said. 

The goal of tracking goes beyond capturing that one explosive comment. Wilkes said it's more about uncovering information that feeds a particular narrative about a candidate. 

She points to this video of Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill boarding a private plane. It was captured by an America Rising tracker.

"She has this RV tour where she puts out there that she's going to be going around the state in an RV to talk to the people," Wilkes said. "Meanwhile she's flying from stop to stop on her private jet."

Republicans pounced and the private plane quickly became a campaign issue. 

"That's not necessarily Claire McCaskill coming out and saying one remark that's an absolute deathblow to the campaign," Wilkes said. "That contributes to a narrative of her being out of touch."

Perhaps the most famous example of tracker footage came from the 2006 U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia. Republican George Allen publicly called out his Indian-American tracker using a racial epithet. Allen later apologized on national television but the gaffe changed the tenor of the race and he ultimately lost. 

"I think George Allen came from a time when we were just transitioning into this new world which is why I think it was so impactful," Wilkes said.

Part of that impact has been more scripted, buttoned-up campaigns and candidates; hoping to avoid giving their opponents any leads or fresh ammo.

"They're very secretive about schedules now and they're definitely more polished," Mason said. 

So in this highly scripted world where every utterance is recorded, what's the advice for candidates?

Wilkes said, "If a candidate is consistent and is who they say they are, there should be no problem with our tracker simply filming him or her at a public event."

And candidates remember that it is not personal. 

"I'm just there to do my job. Not trying to cause any harm," Mason said. He clarified, "Physical harm — maybe political."