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Political Notebook: Tracking the trackers

ST. PAUL -- Anyone who follows governor candidates around knows they never are alone.

Democrats and Republicans almost always hire young people to follow opposing candidates so they know everything the candidate does. It has been happening since the 1980s, but it is even more important and common today.

Why? Just think about those grainy black and white videos that often appear in negative campaign commercials, usually accompanied by ominous music. Some of those images come from so-called trackers who, well, track candidates.

Trackers usually record everything a candidate does. For instance, a Republican tracker caught DFL governor candidate Mark Dayton talking on the telephone about his dogs that were left in the car in 93-degree heat. The video appeared on YouTube.

Soon after that incident, Dayton complained about a tracking dispute. That happened at the Game Fair in the northern Twin Cities when, he claimed, two young GOP trackers blocked the public from reaching him.

Republicans dispute the claim, but a video Dayton's campaign showed did indicate the trackers were closer to Dayton than often happens. Usually, in the past at least, trackers would stay in the back of a room and record the candidate.

Dayton wants tracking to stop, other than at public events such as debates, speeches, etc.

He said he would tell the DFL Party his wishes. The problem is, he talked to the press before bringing it up with his party, so Democratic officials were a bit flatfooted when asked about the subject right after Dayton's announcement.

Missed vote focus

Another anti-Tom Emmer television commercial is on the air.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota Action Fund‚s fourth such advertisement points out that Emmer, the Republican governor candidate, missed more than 140 legislative votes this year.

The alliance is running the spot statewide with a $500,000 purchase of air time.

„We need a governor who will show up and work on behalf of Minnesotans,‰ said alliance Executive Director Denise Cardinal. „Tom Emmer missed 20 percent of votes taken in 2010 ˜ most of us would get fired if we missed that much work.

Facebook like Woodstock?

Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman spent his youth as a bit of a rebel, and attended the infamous Woodstock music festival.

Now, as a political think tank leader, he knows how to use social media such as Facebook.

But comparing the two came out of the blue the other day, after many had wished him a happy birthday via Facebook.

Coleman recalled that he celebrated a birthday at Woodstock: "I was walking down a hill, with hundreds of folks passing me walking uphill. My buddy, Billy Ellis, was a few feet away and called out 'happy birthday' to me, resulting in an endless line of folks giving me a hug and greeting as they passed by. A birthday on Facebook is very similar!"

Easy this time

Two years ago, the U.S. Senate race seemingly never ended, but the close 2010 DFL governor's contest presented no such problem.

The state Canvassing Board met for minutes to certify the primary results, with no changes from those reported after the Nov. 10 vote.

A higher percentage of Minnesotans voted in this primary (nearly 16 percent) than any time in the past decade. And the 31,276 absentee ballots cast were a state record.

Smokes seized

Minnesota revenue officials have seized thousands of cartons of cigarettes this summer.

Revenue Department officials say taxes were not paid on nearly 2 million cigarettes that state and federal authorities took. Unpaid state tax amounted to $159,000 and the federal government lost $104,000 in taxes.

Buyers of untaxed cigarettes could face a criminal penalty, revenue officials said.

Most of the cigarettes were sold by American Internet sites but manufactured in Ukraine.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.