New Group : American Bridge 21st Century (Media Matters Offshoot) to "Video-Track" Every Republican Presidential Candidate!
AMHERST, N.H. — Aaron Fielding quietly stalks his prey — Republicans — with his video camera, patiently waiting for a political moment worthy of YouTube.
At 27, he is a full-time “tracker” for American Bridge 21st Century, a new Democratic organization that aims to record every handshake, every utterance by Republican candidates in 2011 and 2012, looking for gotcha moments that could derail political ambitions or provide fodder for television advertisements by liberal groups next year.
The organization has hired a dozen professional trackers like Mr. Fielding, outfitted them with the latest high-tech cameras and computers and positioned them in key states where Republican candidates are busy chattering away to voters. If all works as planned, incriminating moments captured by American Bridge will quickly become part of the political bloodstream.
Combined with a team of 20 researchers in a Washington “war room” that has a large rack of computer servers, the effort is part of a push by Democratic groups to bolster their opposition research. Republicans also have trackers, but so far have not assembled the kind of centralized video archive of political caught-on-tape moments that their rivals envision.
“Our obligation here is to get these guys on the record with what they really believe so they can’t walk away from their record,” said Rodell Mollineau, a former aide to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and the group’s president. “There are many opportunities for us to record Republicans showing their true colors.”
For Mr. Fielding, that has meant a month of crisscrossing New Hampshire to catch Republican presidential hopefuls at house parties, Main Street strolls, diner meet-and-greets and speeches to local chamber groups. He has filmed Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah, more than a dozen times.
On Monday, his target was Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who was in town for the annual July 4 parade in Amherst. As Mr. Romney sprinted from one side of the parade route to the other, chased by reporters and TV camera crews, Mr. Fielding was there, too. Sporting an Under Armour baseball cap (on backward), a heavy backpack and sunglasses, he captured Mr. Romney’s awkward handshake with Mr. Huntsman, the brief interviews with reporters and the occasional conversation with voters.
Hours later, when Mr. Romney appeared on the village green in Andover, about 55 miles north of Amherst, Mr. Fielding was waiting, camera in hand.
“I’ve seen most of these candidates multiple times,” Mr. Fielding said. “I know what they are saying. I know when they’ve changed. You have to just be with them the whole time, have the camera ready and make sure you have batteries.”
The ability to film a politician while walking backward is a must. So is a bit of chutzpah: The job calls for walking uninvited into New Hampshire house parties until you are asked to leave. (That has not happened to Mr. Fielding — yet. ) He has gotten to know some of the Republican staff members, and they are beginning to know him.
Mr. Fielding is a descendent of sorts of S. R. Sidarth, the Democratic tracker who in 2006 captured Senator George Allen of Virginia calling him “macaca” — a term critics viewed as a racial slur. That incident helped destroy Mr. Allen’s re-election campaign and proved the power of the tracker. But Mr. Fielding is no mere volunteer. A veteran of campaigns in Louisiana and New Mexico, he is what American Bridge refers to as a “seasoned political operative.”
“I pay attention to what the important issues are,” Mr. Fielding said. “This is where the meat of the campaign is.”
Mr. Fielding’s efforts on July 4 produced no embarrassing moments. But officials at American Bridge insist that is not the point. Along with the video he uploaded, Mr. Fielding sent in detailed, time-coded “field reports” that will be entered into a searchable database and used to index the hours of video from the event.
If a Democratic group is ever looking for the image of Mr. Romney paying for a 25-cent lemonade with a $5 bill, it will know just where to go. If it wants a clip of Mr. Romney saying the president has made the economy worse, the archive will have one. Or if it needs Mr. Romney talking about World War II veterans, it will be able to find it.
“I can come up with the spin. I need the facts,” said Paul Begala, a former top adviser to President Bill Clinton and a senior strategist for Priorities USA Action, an outside group that is working to re-elect President Obama. Mr. Begala said American Bridge would help fuel his group’s ads. “Let’s go to the videotape!”
While the Democratic National Committee and Democratic candidates also have trackers, federal campaign laws prohibit the outside organizations from coordinating closely enough to use their videotapes in their advertising efforts.
American Bridge is the creation of David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America, which critiques conservative media outlets, particularly Fox News. Once a leader of right-wing attacks on Mr. Clinton, Mr. Brock is a liberal convert, now seeking ways to have a bigger impact.
His initial plans to create a fund-raising group to produce television ads fizzled, forcing the more targeted approach that became American Bridge. While there is suspicion among some Democratic operatives that Mr. Brock is more interested in promoting himself than his cause, others are more optimistic.
Susan McCue, who heads Majority PAC, a group that will support Democratic Senate candidates, said of Mr. Brock and American Bridge: “We talk all the time. The relationships are in place to avoid any strategic conflict.” Mr. Brock declined to comment for this article.
By tapping into his network of Media Matters donors, American Bridge officials say they have raised several million dollars and hope to bring in $15 million to make the group part of a new liberal infrastructure that will last far beyond the 2012 cycle.
On the Republican side, which has no exact counterpart to American Bridge, strategists say they are not worried.
“In the age of cellphone cameras, everybody thinks of themselves as a tracker,” said Carl Forti, who heads Crossroads GPS, the largest of the Republican superPACs.
Democrats, though, are hoping that American Bridge can give them an edge. “It shouldn’t be that when you watch ‘The Daily Show’ at night they have the best video footage of our candidates,” said Bradley Beychok, the campaign director at American Bridge.
In New Hampshire, that is the goal that gets Mr. Fielding out of bed, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., and into his white Ford 500 for another day of chasing after candidates.
On Monday, he missed an opportunity when he stationed himself at the main parade stage, only to be out of position when Mr. Romney gave an impromptu speech elsewhere. But later, in Andover, Mr. Romney’s advance team set up its portable stage right in front of him.
“Sometimes,” he said, camera running, “you just get lucky.”
From : The NY Times
By : Michael D.Shears
News & Politics