Campaign trackers are nothing new, but congressional candidate Andy Kim’s recent run-in with a tracker from Rep. Tom MacArthur’s might not be quite par for course.
On Tuesday, a tracker caught up with Kim at an event in Mount Holly, where the candidate was not accompanied by staff. During the encounter, the tracker followed Kim, asking him more than 15 times whether he supported abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency tasked with deportations.
Kim, who was unaccompanied by staff at the time and became lost as he walked to his car during the uncomfortable eight-minute encounter, ignored the repeated questions, drawing out his phone, ostensibly to speak with a staffer.
Though Kim did not answer to tracker at any point, he later told the New Jersey Globe he was against abolishing ICE, whose deconstruction has become something of a calling card for far-left Democrats after the agency started separating families under President Donald Trump, a practice which has since ceased.
“Trump’s policy of separating families seeking asylum is wrong and fails to address very real problems,” Kim later said in a statement on Thursday. “However, I believe abolishing an entire agency is the wrong step, as the problem is with our leaders in Washington who choose to play politics instead of focusing on our national security.”
So while the tracker did not catch Kim’s answer on video, campaign tracking – the practice of recording opposing candidates at events in hopes of a gaffe – was at least somewhat successful in pushing the agency as an issue.
“I think we see this on both sides as part of the campaign trail,” a Republican strategist not involved in the district’s race said. “Seizing on any opportunity you can to capitalize – maximize – your position and minimize your opponent’s is the use for trackers and is what they had hoped to accomplish, and I think it comes down to the candidate being disciplined enough to not be rustled by anyone saying anything to them.”
That sentiment, that tracking is just par-for-course in today’s politics, was echoed by a Democratic strategist from outside the district.
But forcing Kim to answer a question isn’t all the tracker accomplished, said Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute.
For one, MacArthur’s campaign now has at least eight minutes of Kim walking away from questions – B-roll that could prove useful for the congressman’s campaign, which has grown accustomed to using Kim’s silence or avoidance of a given issue as an attack vector.
To Rasmussen, Kim’s response towards the tracker was extremely defensive in a very visual, not to mention usable, way.
“You never want to look like you’re running,” Rasmussen said. “Think about what this kind of footage could mean in a campaign commercial. Think about how it could be used. You could throw any kind of question on there and have footage of him running and looking like he’s talking on the phone, and that’s not what you want. it just sends a terrible perception of deceptiveness and not being forthright.”
Still, Rasmussen understood why Kim reacted like he did.
Giving a bad or heated answer on camera could have more dire implications for the race, like when former Virginia Sen. George Allen repeatedly called an Indian Democratic campaign volunteer “macaca,” a type of monkey whose name has been used as a racial slur, at a campaign rally in 2008.
It might be precisely because he avoided a campaign-ending gaffe that the Republican strategist considered Kim’s reaction a smart one, even if it was somewhat unrefined in its execution.
“They shouldn’t react. They should ignore them completely,” the strategist said. “That tracker is not out to benefit the candidate, that tracker is there to knock the candidate off message.”
Still, the episode is something of a departure from typical campaign tracking, which usually just involves recording a candidate instead of questioning them.
Rasmussen saw that as the crossing of a line that invited retribution in kind from the Kim’s campaign, though he would rather the campaign not descend into that depth of incivility.
“This is campaign interference, and I hope that both sides could agree that it won’t continue, or else it has the potential to really obstruct both candidates’ ability to openly campaign,” Rasmussen said. “I mean, if not, wouldn’t it be logical to expect that the tactic would be returned in kind?”