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Democratic tracker on Blunt's trail, captures more criticism of Medicare

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 29, 2009 - U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate next year, has been caught once again making a disparaging remark about Medicare, the health care program for the elderly that was begun by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

But what's arguably as noteworthy as what he said, is how his comments were recorded.

His observation -- “We've had Medicare since 1965, and Medicare has never done anything to make people more healthy" -- is reminiscent of the southwest Missouri congressman'scritical radio commentsabout the program a few weeks ago.

Blunt was caught by his new "tracker,'' named Ian Nappier, who has been hired by the Missouri Democratic Party more than a year before the 2010 election to monitor most of the congressman's public moves.

Trackers have become regular figures in recent Missouri campaigns, with both state parties hiring young activists -- often college-age -- who must be willing to stalk their political prey regularly.

The targets generally have been the top-of-the-ticket candidates, such as last year's candidates for governor: Democrat Jay Nixon and Republican Kenny Hulshof.

The tracker's job is to record the target's speeches, public appearances and any conversations within earshot. The video is then studied by the rival campaign for any insight, and any missteps.

The tracker usually tries to get as close to the candidate as possible, and often must put up with verbal --and occasionally physical -- abuse from the target's political allies.

However, the targeted Missouri candidates and their campaign staffs generally have been careful to avoid any public run-ins with their "tracker,'' preferring instead to engage only in the occasional light banter.

The reason? Think about then-U.S. Sen. George Allen's seemingly "shoo-in'' status for re-election in Virginia in 2006, and how the Republican's fortunes disintegrated when he was caught on camera during a rally referring to his Democratic tracker as "Macaca."

In Blunt's case, the latest video by his tracker is already touching off Democratic attacks, to back up their assertions that the congressman -- the GOP point person in the U.S. House on health care -- isn't a fan of any government effort to help the public get health care coverage, even if it's a 40-plus year-old popular program.

As for the tracker, the Missouri Republican Party says it currently has no regular counterpart monitoring the moves of the only announced Democrat for that Senate seat, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

"We have contracted one on a case-by-case basis, since she's done few public events,'' said state GOP spokesman Jonathon Prouty.

But Prouty added that with the campaign apparently heating up, a regular tracker should soon be hot on Carnahan's trail. When he or she is hired, we'll let you know.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.