UPDATE, Friday, Aug. 29: Sanger Democrat Amanda Renteria on Friday followed up the weekend 'political tracker' incident with a 30-second automated phone call criticizing Valadao.
“This past weekend, my Republican opponents decided to harass me while I prayed in church,” part of the call, featuring the voice of Renteria herself, says. “This is just plain wrong. Congressman Valadao’s allies have admitted to doing it, but he refuses to tell them to stop.”
Candidate trackers are commonplace in politics. They are people employed to follow an opposing candidate everywhere, recording them as they speak and interact at political events during a campaign.
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Just one gaffe or political misstep is recorded — and could very well find its way into a subsequent political ad hitting a candidate.
Even 21st Congressional District candidate Amanda Renteria knows this, calling them “a normal part of today’s politics.” The California Democratic Party has one that has followed around her opponent, incumbent Hanford Republican David Valadao.
But Renteria says one of these candidate trackers crossed the line this past weekend when he followed her into a church, asking questions as she walked down the aisle and videotaping her as she knelt down to pray.
The incident prompted a letter to Valadao, saying it “reached a truly absurd level of inappropriateness and personal violation.” The letter then asked Valadao to apologize. Valadao, however, doesn’t employ trackers, spokesman Tal Eslick said.
This person, it turns out, worked for America Rising, a conservative political action committee. And, he overstepped his bounds, said Jeff Bechdel, the organization’s communications director.
“The tracker was used on a per-event basis,” Bechdel said in an email. “His behavior was clearly too aggressive and violated our rules of conduct. He will no longer be tracking events for America Rising.”
It isn’t the first time America Rising has rankled Democrats, who say the GOP has violated unofficial rules of engagement by sending trackers on to Capitol Hill.
For Renteria, it happened Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Catholic Church in Mendota, where she was campaigning with Shawn Bagley, a Democrat who is running against incumbent state Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Ceres Republican.
Renteria said she had set up outside the church, but decided to head inside for some quiet time before the event began. The tracker, she said, followed her into the church.
“This is a step too far,” Renteria said in an interview. “If anyone does this, it is inappropriate. There is no way you should be invading a person’s privacy in church when you are praying.”
Renteria said she’d also been hassled by a tracker before an event in Avenal, when she was playing with her two children in a park.
Eslick said Valadao has put with the same thing. Trackers, he said, have shot video of his home, and have tried to disrupt public meetings that are part of his official congressional duties.
“Dave does not like trackers following him and they have for months,” Eslick said.
But Renteria countered that if they have, it has only been at public events.
The weekend incident sparked one related controversy — the location of Renteria’s event.
“We are confused as to how our opponent had a political event at a church, but that’s for our opponent to explain, not us,” Eslick said.
Renteria countered that it was not inside the church, but out in front on the sidewalk. She said churches are often points of reference in small towns, so her campaign decided to use the church as a location for the event to help people find it.
Had they held it inside the church, Renteria said, the trackers would have had a field day and no doubt used the footage in a future attack ad against her.