Election Day is the culmination of months of work not just for candidates, but for the opposition trackers who have been following them every step of the way, hoping to capture a damaging moment on video.
It can be an uncomfortable, even hostile, dynamic for both sides, and it’s hardly a situation that seems likely to lead to friendship.
Josh Hursa got his start as a tracker when a friend offered him what seemed like a pretty good paying job with the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. He was 22-years-old, a staunch Republican and at loose ends after wrapping up work on a political campaign.
“I was really idealistic in my early twenties and I had a lot of really firm convictions,” Hursa recalled.
The year was 2012 and Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace of Pueblo was challenging incumbent Republican incumbent Scott Tipton for the 3rd congressional district.
Initially, Hursa was unclear on what exactly a tracker even did.
“The concept that was explained to me was more hoping to catch him saying either something stupid or doing something that is so outrageous,” said Hursa. “[You] spend thousands of hours and thousands and thousands of dollars following people around to get a 20-second ad spot. It's incredibly difficult to get this one ‘gotcha’ moment.”
So wherever Pace went, Hursa was there: Waiting for him outside his office at the state capitol, outside the House chamber, the committee hearings. He followed Pace through the hallways of the state capitol, even waited for him outside the bathroom. And he was always filming.
“He never wanted to leave my side,” Pace remembered recently. “It was actually really sort of unnerving to have that type of nonstop attention. I had to make sure that if I had to blow my nose, I'd have to go and hide and do it. You know, I didn't want that on camera.”
Hursa’s presence was so pervasive that a picture of him filming Pace was featured in a Denver Post story about trackers. He got to be a familiar face in the office Pace shared with former Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, who would try to make friendly jokes whenever he saw Hursa, just to lighten the mood.
“[He would] make it like it wasn't weird what I was doing. Which is really cool because I felt weird doing it,” said Hursa.
Singer remembers seeing Hursa at political events outside the Capitol, and after a while, even though they were from different parties, the two developed a rapport.
“We'd talk about what politics was like on the East Coast. He was from New Jersey, I was from Boston, and that's how these things take off, right?” said Singer.
But that type of banter didn’t extend to Pace and Hursa. Pace said they didn’t talk, given that anything he might say would be caught on camera and, potentially, used against him.
Pace found it so frustrating to have Hursa following him all day that he occasionally used the Capitol’s security features just to earn a few minutes of privacy; he’d lead Hursa outside, only to duck back into the building through an employees-only door, forcing Hursa to walk around to the public entrance. Pace felt like the whole effort wasn’t about tracking him as much as harassing him.
“I don't think I had any animus towards him, per se, but the situation was incredibly uncomfortable,” said Pace.
On the other side of the camera, Hursa was also feeling awkward and stressed, worried he might miss the moment he was being paid to catch.
And as the weeks wore on, he started to have second thoughts about the usefulness of the job.
“You think that everything that you're doing is going to be like the most important political work in the world. But most of the time I was just bothering this one guy who's running for office who was just trying to do what he thought was right.”
Keeping in touch
Hursa never did catch a “gotcha” moment, but in the end it didn’t matter for the race; Pace lost to Tipton by about 12 points. With that election behind them, there seemed little reason Pace and Hursa would ever meet again.
But Hursa kept an eye on Pace’s career, as the former candidate went on to serve as a Pueblo County Commissioner. He discovered they had things in common, like support for Front Range passenger rail.
At the same time, Hursa’s own political views were changing. He left political work behind and eventually became a Democrat, drawn in part by the party’s support for behavioral health policies.
Pace recalls Hursa reaching out to him a few times over social media over the years.
At first, it wasn’t something he was thrilled about.
“Generally in my life I try to surround myself with people who I enjoy to be around. And I try to not put too much energy into experiences that I don't enjoy to be around,” said Pace.
Still, when they did eventually reconnect, Pace found he didn’t mind staying in touch.
‘Josh and Sal, 2.0’
But it wasn’t until this year that those occasional contacts developed into a genuine friendship. Pace recently became the owner of Colorado’s first professional ultimate disc team, the Colorado Summit. When he posted online about needing workers for the games, Hursa asked for a job.
At one of the team’s last games of the season, the two greeted each other warmly and sat near each other in the VIP section reserved for family and friends. Both of them had brought their 10-year-old daughters; the girls have had playdates and became good friends too.
“I would say today that I would consider him a friend,” Hursa said of Pace. “And that transformation over the last 10 years has been a long road for sure. But I'm really thankful to get to know this person.”
Hursa said he doesn’t regret his experience as a tracker, but it’s also not a job he’d recommend. And even though he thinks Pace would have been a good congressman, he’s glad things turned out the way they did; “because maybe if Sal had gone to Congress I wouldn't have gotten a chance to get to know him.”
Pace says he’s been surprised by how he and Hursa’s relationship has grown too.
“[I’ve] had a lot of opportunity to work on forgiveness and personal growth and mending something,” said Pace, before reconsidering a bit. “Well, I guess it's not really mending, because we were never close originally, but changing the narrative of our relationship.”
Pace describes Hursa as a very nice guy with a good heart, something he said he never would have realized 10 years ago.
“I'm excited for the Josh and Sal relationship 2.0. It's better than the first version.”
You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up. The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!