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Opponents targeting campaign staff no longer off limits

On a Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s PAC hired Liz Mair to guide social media and online communications. Within 48 hours, Mair resigned — a victim of past remarks that did not sit well in Iowa, an early primary state.

In an age of detailed opponent research and attack politics, Mair provides a cautionary tale for presidential campaigns where targets are no longer candidates themselves, but  staff members as well.

“The danger level has risen,” Democratic campaign veteran Tad Devine said to POLITICO.

“There’s more awareness of the fact that if you’re going to hire somebody on a payroll of a campaign, that person needs to be subjected to some kind of scrutiny,” said Devine, an informal adviser to prospective presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

With limited resources and time, campaigns can little afford to vet potential staffers fully. At the same time, the Internet — mainly social media, with its extended memory — becomes a gold mine for opponents looking to score cheap points.

“I think most campaigns [know] that even if their staff aren’t opining on the issues of the day on social media, they’ll be researched by opposing campaigns and parties looking for dirt,” Mair told POLITICO’s Jonathan Topaz and Katie Glueck in an email. “Whether it’s as to their domestic arrangements, bankruptcy history, previous employers, old scandals, alma maters or any number of other things.”

“It may make some people queasy,” she said, “but that’s the deal.”

Mair’s downfall was months-old tweets, saying Iowa is “embarrassing itself” and U.S. politics is “better off” if the state ends its practice of hosting the first nominating event. She thinks it was Democrats behind the revelation while some Republicans think it was GOP rivals.

Either way, Walker, in the lead up to a possible 2016 Republican presidential run, spent a day on defense.

Later in the week, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry faced a similar situation: A newly hired Iowa operative had sent a private email years ago ranting about how a female presidency could be bad for American families. That email also caused dissension during his time with the 2012 campaign of Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.

Frustrated by the possibility that Mair was undone other Republicans, some conservatives have lamented her departure.

“It’s really unfortunate and not at all constructive for the conservative movement nor the Republican Party,” one GOP strategist told POLITICO. “The fact that an accomplished libertarian like Mair somehow isn’t fit to do communications consulting for someone like Walker is a joke.”

Mair is not the only casualty of such a fate.

A month ago, Ethan Czahor spent a single day as chief technology officer for Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise PAC before he was forced to resign. In that case as well, past tweets and statements demeaning of women, gay men and blacks brought him down.

Crazor subsequently apologized through a series of tweets.

This trend has not singled out technologically savvy staff.

After hiring Justin Muzinich as policy director for his possible presidential campaign, Bush experienced an immediate barrage of Democratic opposition from the left-leaning group American Bridge 21st Century.

Muzinich’s time in the hedge fund and Wall Street worlds, according to an American Bridge statement, “certainly won’t do anything to help the perception that Jeb doesn’t represent the values of the middle class.”

Targeting campaign staff is not new. Mitt Romney campaign national security spokesperson Richard Grenell resigned in 2012 after social conservatives bristled at his stance on same-sex marriage as an openly gay man. He also drew criticism for deleting tweets about Hillary Clinton and other high-profile women.

In the past, it was usually bad behavior, not opinions or past statements, that got them into hot water. With the increase in social media, leaving an electronic “paper trail” indicates the metrics have changed.

“People are getting caught saying things in the past in their lives when maybe the rules were a little bit different,” Romney associate Ron Kaufman, who worked in the George H.W. Bush White House, told POLITICO.

“That’s just the way it is,” he said.

Written By

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist, editor and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing, reporting and management experience, Phil produced content for both print and online, in addition to founding several specialty websites, including HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and entertainment reviews for Patch.com, technical articles, and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine as well as advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as editor and production manager for Extensive Enterprises Media since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul. He can be reached at phil.ammann@gmail.com.

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