Activists targeted Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes on Monday with an undercover video in which her own supporters veer way off message on coal, a digital-age doozy that complicates the Kentucky Democrat’s bid against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and reveals a new level of campaign “tracking” that lets the cameraman join the action.
The video released by Project Veritas Action, a group of activists famous for political sting operations against liberal causes, features party and county-based campaigners for Mrs. Grimes who say once she’s elected she won’t need to be beholden to the coal industry, which is a treasured industry in Appalachia.
“I really don’t think her heart is 100 percent in backing coal. But she has to say she is because she will not get a huge number of votes in this state if she doesn’t,” a woman identified in the video as a Warren County Democratic operative says of Mrs. Grimes.
“But she’s got to get in there first and she’s got to say whatever she has to say or do,” the woman adds. “And that’s the way the political game is played.”
Project Veritas is led by James O’Keefe III, who rose to prominence in 2009 by filming officials at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) allegedly offering guidance on how to run a made-up prostitution ring and evade the IRS, dooming the group’s funding and existence.
Some see his tactics as a clever way to unearth the truth, while others say he distorts facts through heavy editing and leading questions.
In the video, Mr. O’Keefe says the investigation is just the first of many that will delve into key races across the country ahead of next month’s election. Their foray into campaign politics speaks to the narrow margin of error candidates face in the digital world, where every phone is a camera and anyone can reach thousands of voters on YouTube.
Many campaigns now employ “trackers,” or people hired to follow around their political opponents to capture missteps on the trail. The idea is that a single sound bite, such as Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments in 2012, can turn a campaign.
Mr. O’Keefe appears to be taking it further, engaging campaign workers in Louisville and various Kentucky counties and then letting them walk into a political no-no in the Bluegrass State — badmouthing coal.
“I don’t think it is crazy to think that stings like Project Veritas are the next big thing in campaigns,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report. “That’s what trackers were a couple of years ago.”
Mrs. Grimes has gone to great lengths to beat back claims she will not stand up to President Obama or the EPA when it imposes tough energy regulations. The Veritas video itself includes a clip of Mrs. Grimes offering to “stand up and fight for what keeps the lights on here in the state of Kentucky.”
Mr. McConnell, hoping to pull away from Ms. Grimes and shepherd Republicans to the Senate majority, has said those claims ring hollow.
“It is absolutely shocking that Alison Lundergan Grimes’ own staff now admits that she has no intention of protecting the coal industry,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said. “The level of deception that Alison Grimes and her campaign engages in to appear pro-coal despite obvious opposition is both disturbing and dangerous.”
The Grimes campaign could not be reached for comment on the clip, and major news outlets in Kentucky appeared to ignore the Veritas production in favor of a new Bluegrass Poll that puts Ms. Grimes up by 2 points with four weeks to go until election day.
Mr. McConnell’s campaign dismissed the poll as an outlier, after 14 previous polls showed the incumbent with a steady lead.