Maria Shefffield may have missed her moment.
Recently surfaced reports indicate that the congressional hopeful, vying with three others for a shot at incumbent John Barrow, now has a video tracker following her through crowds, forums and rallies across the 12th district campaign circuit. The culprit? Fellow Republican Wright McLeod, whose fundraising prowess has placed him atop the frontrunner’s pedestal. The instance serves as the first publicly noted tracker of the race, which has grown noticeably more heated, no doubt due to the July 31st drawing nearer.
Sheffield’s response? Accusing the McLeod campaign of “stalking”, demanding the tracker pack his bag for other trails (while leaving a signed apology) and decrying the tactic as one solely used by Democrats.
Typically the sight of an extra video camera in your audience should be viewed as a welcome occurrence. Trackers are a sign that an opposing campaign has begun, if only for a moment, to take you seriously as a contender. For Sheffield, the moment presented itself to gain some much needed traction in a race featuring three candidates better established within the rural Georgia district.
Though she has maintained a vigorous online presence, Sheffield has raised only $14,000 in contributions, with her remaining $100,000 being self-financed (as of March 31st). She has family roots in the district, but moved from metro-Atlanta to Laurens County’s Dexter at the onset of the campaign; so should she gain traction, the term carpetbagger is one that may be passed under whispered breath.
In other words, now was the time to proclaim with a new vigor that she is a force to be reckoned with in the battle to replace John Barrow, a Democrat already targeted with just shy of a million in outside spending this fall. On paper, she should be the last candidate that McLeod would have followed, which means that internal polling is saying something we don’t know, or that the political calculus of the Augusta lawyer’s campaign should be called into serious question.
However, instead of headlines simultaneously boosting Sheffield’s credibility while asking for answers from McLeod, we have been treated to analysis and rebuke of her claims. The “stalking” allegation is one that can be perceived as playing the victim, a weak card in rural Georgia. Furthermore, calling the tactic one only used be Democrats has been pointed out as factually inaccurate by practically every publication covering the story. For instance, in 2010 the Republican Governor’s Association filmed every single move Roy Barnes made.
The error in handling the story is further shown in the indication that other campaigns bear no intentions of following McLeod’s opposition research lead. In a reply to the Georgia Tipsheet Joel McElhannon, strategist for state Rep. Lee Anderson, derided Sheffield as a “fourth-place contender” while subsequently barbing McLeod as a “pathological liar, not a stalker”.
McElhannon’s statements on McLeod serve to bring full circle the missed moment for Sheffield’s campaign. As a full disclosure, I have no personal horse in this race; my only concern is beating John Barrow. But it has been a tricky two months for Wright McLeod and, with the vetting process in full swing, his response has been lacking. Be it his claim of voting for Bill Richardson in the 2008 DEMOCRATIC Presidential Primary when no Richardson votes were recorded in his precinct, to his donations to Democrat Rob Telheit’s campaign for Attorney General in 2010, he has lacked sufficient substance to debunk allegations of false conservatism. Questioning McLeod’s ideology is not necessarily my point, but his campaign’s ability to respond to the hammer that John Barrow’s millions will drop on an eventual opponent is significant reason to raise doubts.
Thus, instead of turning McLeod’s tracker into a continued focus on his unraveling as frontrunner, onlookers are gazing at the word “stalking” and tactics clearly used by Republicans and Democrats alike.
A missed moment indeed.