Thieves smash into a political office, grab laptop computers or paper documents containing political campaign secrets, strategy or voter information -- and then dash off into the night.
It may sound like a plot out of a political spy thriller -- but that basic scenario has been a real-world occurrence this election season at Democratic offices in Ohio and Pennsylvania, a Republican office in Washington state, a voter registration organization in New Mexico and the home of a historian in California.
Police in some cases consider the thefts to be non-political burglaries or lack evidence to call the break-ins politically motivated. But regardless, observers consider a wave of reported break-ins, shooting incidents, attacks and vandalism at partisan political sites this year as yet another sign that the race between President Bush and Sen. Kerry is one of the most bitterly fought in recent memory.
"It's pretty much an everyday thing," says Mindy Tucker Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the Bush-Cheney campaign this year and in 2000. "I don't remember this happening as much last time."
Besides the burglaries, police say bullets have shattered windows at Republican offices in Knoxville, Tenn., and Huntington, W.Va., and authorities or campaign officials say slingshots, rocks or other objects have done so at Republican offices in Scotts Valley, Calif., Flagstaff, Ariz., Portland, Ore., Laconia, N.H., and Fairbanks, Alaska, and a Democratic office in State College, Pa.
Additional burglaries or attempted thefts not believed to involve partisan secrets have been reported at Republican offices in Cincinnati and Canton, Ohio, and Spokane, Wash.
Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of the political journal The Hotline, says he is not sure if there are more incidents this year, or if the media are just paying closer attention. But he says he wouldn't be surprised if the level of partisan lawbreaking is up because of intense passions this election season, and perhaps overzealousness among the large number of ordinary people mobilized by the campaign.
"Both campaigns, they have a whole bunch of new volunteers, and I don't think it's a surprise that they might have a few volunteers who are a few chads short of a ballot," Todd says.
Fletcher has distributed an extensive list of alleged "intimidation" targeting Republicans that ranges from minor vandalism or raucous protests to burglaries and assaults.
"I think there's a lot of hate in this campaign," she says. "They're going out to vote because they hate George Bush. People who are hateful throw rocks and bricks and things through windows. … It's an attitude that permeates the [Kerry] campaign."
Michael Meehan, a spokesman for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, would not comment on the individual incidents targeting Democrats, instead e-mailing the broader statement: "Criminal acts against anyone or any property should not be tolerated and we hope that local law enforcement officials will prosecute any crimes to the fullest extent of the law."
Following are details on some of the incidents: