If George Allen makes a flub reminiscent of his infamous 2006 "macaca" utterance, his opponents are determined to catch it.
Three groups have set "trackers" on Mr. Allen's stump trail with instructions to record the former governor's every word as he tries to win back the U.S. Senate seat he lost five years ago. Although it has become common for campaigns to send spies to watch the other side, few candidates have three people tailing them 16 months before the general election.
One of the trackers works for American Bridge 21st Century, a political action committee. The group is focusing on Mr. Allen's race because of its potential for national attention - and not because he derailed his last campaign for Senate by using a racial slur on a tracker for opponent Jim Webb, said spokesman Chris Harris.
"He's priority not because of his past difficulty with trackers, but he's top priority because it's going to be a competitive seat," Mr. Harris said. "We're going to be focusing on it because of that."
Of course, there's always a chance that the trackers will strike gold.
"We'd love another 'macaca' moment," Mr. Harris said.
Newly formed by Democrats, American Bridge provides opposition research for three sister groups focused on electing candidates next year to the House, Senate and presidency: House Majority PAC, Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA.
Each is a new brand of PAC - called a "super PAC" - made possible by a Supreme Court ruling last year that allows independent groups to accept unlimited donations from corporations and unions. Super PACs can take unlimited amounts of money from 501(c)(4) organizations that in turn don't have to disclose their donors.
While Democrats criticized Republicans for using super PACs to infuse their campaigns with cash from undisclosed donors, party leaders now say they need to catch up if they want to avoid sweeping GOP victories similar to what happened in November.
"We didn't make the rules at the beginning of the game, but we have to play to win," Mr. Harris said. "Democrats of all stripes have realized that unless we want to relive those days, we want to stand up and fight back."
The Democratic Party of Virginia also is enticed by the prospect of capturing another George Allen slip-up. Party leaders put a film student on his tail in early May and told him to record video of everything he says in public, said spokesman Brian Coy.
"We decided as long as he was actively campaigning, we'd like to see what he's telling people," Mr. Coy said.
As to whether the trackers will come back with any campaign ammunition from the oh-so-guarded Mr. Allen, it's anyone's guess.
"He's very good until he's not," Mr. Coy said. "He's very diligent at saying the same thing in every place."
Staff for the Allen campaign have spotted a third tracker who said he was connected to Jim Kottmeyer, spokeswoman Katie Wright confirmed. Mr. Kottmeyer founded Terra Strategies, a political consulting firm whose clients included 2009 gubernatorial contender Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia Democratic Party, according to its website. Mr. Kottmeyer did not return calls for comment.
Like its Democratic counterpart, the Republican Party of Virginia has hired a film student to track Mr. Kaine's public appearances, said spokesman Garren Shipley.
Even as it plays the same game, the GOP is trying to spin Democratic attention on Mr. Allen as evidence of the party's fear.
"It shows just how desperate these guys are," Mr. Shipley said. "I really can't see us having more than one camera on Tim Kaine at any given time."
The Allen campaign didn't miss a chance to connect Mr. Kaine to the national Democratic Party that he led as chairman before resigning in April.
"While it seems early, it's not surprising that Chairman Kaine's allies in Washington are coming to Virginia," Ms. Wright said.
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