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:
Oct. 27: A man is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after veering his silver Cadillac toward Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Fla., and supporters in Sarasota, Fla. "I intimidated them with my car," the man told police, according to The Associated Press. "I was exercising my political expression." Harris is the former Florida secretary of state who sparked the ire of Democrats after presiding over the state's presidential recount in 2000.
Oct. 22: Someone breaks into Republican campaign headquarters in Flagstaff, Ariz., after throwing a cinderblock through a window, Bush campaign officials say.
Oct. 22: A break-in is discovered at Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Cincinnati, Bush campaign officials say. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports $300 is taken.
Oct. 12: A Kerry campaign volunteer discovers evidence of an overnight break-in at Lucas County Democratic Party offices in Toledo, Ohio. Three computers are missing, including one that belonged to a lawyer employed by the Kerry campaign to prevent voter fraud. Police later probe a suspect with a lengthy criminal record. "We think the motivation was just a criminal theft," Toledo police Capt. Ron Spann says. "We don't think it was political at all. … We don't have any reason to think that."
Oct. 11: Someone breaks into and ransacks a Republican Party campaign office in downtown Spokane, Wash., takes petty cash and tampers with a computer, party officials say.
Oct. 10: Someone smashes a window at a Bush-Cheney campaign office in Canton, Ohio, Republicans say. Missing from the office are a purse, a laptop carrying case and a portable radio.
Oct. 6: Four windows are broken after hours at the Fairbanks, Alaska, Interior Republican campaign headquarters used by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the Bush campaign, following a broken window the prior weekend, the AP reports. A Murkowski campaign official says a ball bearing was found days later, and believes a slingshot was used.
Oct. 5: Protesters storm and vandalize a Bush-Cheney office in Orlando, Fla., leaving a campaign worker with a broken arm from the resulting struggle, Fletcher says.
Oct. 5: Someone apparently fires shots through glass doors at a Knoxville, Tenn., office used by Republican Party volunteers to distribute campaign buttons, lawn signs and other election paraphernalia. The office had not yet opened for the day and nobody was injured. "It could have been politically motivated, but we don't know," Knoxville police spokesman Darrell DeBusk says. "It could have been a prank by some teenagers."
Oct. 2: Three computers containing Republican campaign plans are taken overnight after someone throws a rock through a window at Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., police say.
Sept. 12: At least 100 voter-registration forms are reported stolen from the Albuquerque, N.M., offices of the New Voters Project, a non-partisan organization that conducted a voter-registration drive. Seventy-six forms, possibly from the theft, are recovered and given to election officials, State Police Lt. Jimmy Glasscock says. "We're basically seeing this as a burglary and a theft," Glasscock adds. "There has not been any evidence or information that there was any attempt to interfere with an election."
Sept. 11: Four laptop computers believed to contain Kerry-Edwards material are reported stolen from county Democratic offices in Norristown, Pa., according to a newspaper report. "The door to the place had this flimsy lock on it; there was no forced entry," Norristown police Lt. Kevin McKeon told ABC News. "This was a crime of opportunity. We do not believe it had anything to do with anything political."
Sept. 2: A gunshot shatters a window at GOP headquarters in Huntington, W.Va., as workers are gathered to watch Bush's speech during the Republican National Convention, police say.
Aug. 31: Someone shoots out a window at Centre County Democratic headquarters in State College, Pa., apparently with a slingshot, police say. Witnesses hear the glass shatter, but no gunshot, and see a white car zipping away. Police have no motive, but suggest it may not be political. "We have numerous incidents of criminal mischief with slingshots and BB guns in this town," State College police Sgt. Mark Argiro says. "You can imagine -- a town with about 40,000 college students."
March 25: Author and historian Gerald Nicosia returns to his home in Corte Madera, Calif., to find his door ajar and three of 14 boxes of FBI surveillance documents on Kerry missing, but no other valuables taken. Nicosia had obtained thousands of government documents on Kerry's anti-Vietnam War activities through Freedom of Information Act requests. Nicosia, a Kerry backer, says information from the documents later was used to attack Kerry, but only after a government release. "It took me 11 years to get this stuff," Nicosia says. "And then, three weeks after this whole scandal broke in the news, the FBI issued this whole thing on a CD-ROM to everyone in the news media." Police say they have suspended the investigation because of lack of evidence.