When Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) formally kicked off his Senate campaign earlier this month, a scuffle in the back of the room drew attention away from him.
A Mandel aide was using his hands, body, head and hair to block a state Democratic Party employee from filming Mandel as he spoke and gladhanded around the room. The practice of taping opponents' public comments, known as tracking, is common but some in Ohio said Mandel's campaign is the "most aggressive" in blocking it.
David Cohen, who moderated the Mandel event at the Akron Press Club, told the Akron Beacon Journal that he noticed the situation and intervened, asking Mandel's campaign staffer to stop.
“It is Akron Press Club policy and tradition that anybody who wants to record audio or video is free to do so,” Cohen said afterward. “We’re the Press Club, after all. We’re all about free speech and free press. We would protect [Mandel’s] rights just as strenuously.”
Mandel, 34, easily won the Republican Party primary March 6, and is now running against incumbent Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Andrew Zucker, spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, told the Huffington Post that trackers are common in Ohio.
"Both parties use trackers and the goal is really to hold candidates on the other side accountable to what they say," Zucker said. "We can fact-check them on what they say, and make sure they aren’t distorting what our candidates are saying."
Zucker said his trackers have strict rules to identify themselves and to stay out of the way during Republican events.
But Mandel spokesman Travis Considine said that isn't the case for all trackers.
"These trackers often try to distract and disrupt events like Josh’s speech to the Akron Press Club. We prevented that from happening and allowed the forum to proceed without interruption. Whether it’s Sherrod Brown’s staff, the Ohio Democratic Party, or anyone else trying to be disruptive, we will not allow them to push people around," Considine said.
During Mandel's 2010 campaign for state treasurer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on a similar situation after a video surfaced showing Mandel staffer Joel Riter blocking a video camera at a campaign event.
Mandel said publicly in response: "Folks should be allowed to video in an open forum."
The altercation was with Cincinnati Beacon reporter Chris Johnson during a 2010 candidates forum. Johnson, who was recording the event for his paper, filmed a separate altercation between Riter and an Ohio Democratic Party employee. When Riter noticed Johnson filming, he began to block the journalist, Johnson said.
I confronted Riter, asking why he was standing in front of my camera, to which he replied: “Are you working with the Democrats?” When I told him that I wasn’t, he said, “I thought you were, you’re not?” Again, I said that I wasn’t and Riter informed me that he was blocking the other man’s camera because he did work with the Democrats.
Matt Thornton, spokesman for the Democratic political action group American Bridge, said it's a pattern the PAC became aware of while tracking Mandel's political career.
"We’ve had a couple of problems elsewhere, but Mandel’s campaign has been the most aggressive and across the board," Thornton said. "Mandel is unique in that he appears to not want to have any record of the words he is saying in front of these groups."
Thornton said he sends employees to cover Mandel events, and they are repeatedly denied entrance. "We’ve had employees go to check into an event, and the workers say specifically that the Mandel staff does not want us there," Thornton said.
Mandel got a Romney-like bet in a tweet from American Bridge President Rodell Mollineau.
@JoshMandelOhio will send a $10K check if you show an instance of @American_Bridge trackers obstructing events #stophiding cc @PhilTrexler
Thornton said he thinks the Mandel campaign is using accusations of aggressive trackers "as an excuse to do a blanket expulsion."
He also said that Mandel's campaign staffers are aggressive with his trackers and often "stick Blackberries in their faces, take pictures and accost them in the back of the room."
Watch the video from Cincinnati Beacon reporter Chris Johnson from 2010: