General John Douglass, center, tells the tracker he's having a private conversation and to "get out of here."
Douglass moves in for the whack.
The 5th District congressional race got a little more in-your-face at an August 21 Farmville forum when Democratic challenger John Douglass swatted the video camera of a member of Representative Robert Hurt's campaign with rolled up papers. Both sides lashed out following the caught-on-tape incident.
Hurt's campaign manager, Sean Brown, fired off a statement saying that Douglass "did not show any professionalism" while Douglass' campaign manager, Chase Winder, characterized the move as a "camera bump" and accused Hurt's team of "ginning up a right-wing hissy fit."
It's not the first time a camera-equipped campaign rep– a 'tracker' in campaign parlance– made some news. Last year, in a three-way race in western New York, Tea Party candidate Jack Davis asked a tracker– his GOP opponent's campaign manager– "You want punched out?" and a physical alteration followed.
The biggest tracker incident happened right here in Virginia in the 2006 U.S. Senate race when then-Senator George Allen called a Jim Webb campaign volunteer "macaca"– and blew a big lead and lost the seat.
"The reason why campaigns send these trackers to events is to provoke candidates to do what Douglass did," says analyst Kyle Kondik at UVA's Center for Politics. "Everyone's looking for a 'macaca' moment."
The blogosphere lit up after the Farmville incident. Douglass supporters made their own video, in which one person says, "Listening in on a private conversation, even if it is in a public place, I think that's absolutely in poor taste."
"Blaming the victim" is how Charlottesville radio host Rob Schilling characterizes the Douglass response on his August 24 show. "John Douglass is running for Congress and all his minions are calling for civility," says Schilling, "and he strikes out at somebody totally unprovoked, totally inappropriate."
A few weeks ago, Schilling made headlines of his own by declaring Douglass a "chickenhawk" for not appearing on the Schilling Show on WINA-AM. Dem-leaning veterans fired back, branding the former city councilor Hurt's own "shock jock" and taking umbrage at his insult to Douglass, a retired Air Force brigadier general. Schilling eventually apologized.
What the 35-year veteran did in Farmville doesn't smack the UVA political analyst as any macaca moment.
"I don't think it's a very big deal," says Kondik, downplaying a major effect on the electorate.
"It's intrinsically annoying to have a camera in your face all the time," adds Kondik, "but that's the nature of a campaign. Candidates need to keep their cool."
Douglass, who served in the White House under President Ronald Reagan and as assistant secretary of the Navy under President Bill Clinton, is making his first run for elected office, and, according to Kondik, it's going to be tough for any Democrat to reclaim the 5th District.
Republican Hurt, a freshman Representative from Chatham, is seeking to hold the seat he won in 2010 from Democratic Tom Perriello.
"Douglass is the underdog," says Kondik. "He's a good candidate, and Hurt's a good candidate."
Despite Perriello's surprising 2008 election win, the 5th District may have returned to its Republican leanings, and that doesn't bode well for Douglass.
"Outside Charlottesville, it's a Romney district," says Kondik. "In this polarized era, there's not a lot of ticket splitting."