SANFORD -- Matthew Grady, taking time off from his studies at N.C. State University, is pursuing a career in a type of political spying.
Grady, 23, tracks U.S. Rep. Richard Burr for the state Democratic Party, following the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate to at least 80 public appearances in four months and taping those appearances.
Such reconnaissance is standard practice in modern campaigns. Fund raising, television commercials and get-out-the-vote drives are supplemented by more clandestine operations, such as sneaking onto an opponent's e-mail list and hiring trackers such as Grady.
Grady follows a code. If someone asks who he works for, he identifies himself. If they don't ask, he doesn't volunteer the information.
Three people at the ticket and name-tag table at a country club dinner in Lee County asked Grady's name or how to spell it. But only the nearby county chairman inquired about his camera bag and his line of work.
The chairman, heating and air conditioning contractor Richard Littiken, laughed out loud. "I'm sure Burr has someone doing the same thing for Erskine," he said, referring to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Erskine Bowles.
Burr does, sometimes.
A photographer hired by the Burr campaign showed up to videotape Bowles at two recent events. He identified himself both times as being "with NBC." Only after a reporter questioned him did the photographer concede that he was working for Burr and, then, refused to give his name.
Paul Shumaker, Burr's campaign strategist, said he admonished the photographer.
"I made a point to tell him that if he did any more work for us, he was not to misrepresent himself," Shumaker said. "Don't ask me why he did that. Right now I don't plan on using him for anything else."
When Grady disclosed his employer to a table of Burr supporters in Sanford, the group chortled. "He's a spy!" laughed Frances Granger, a retired travel agent.
Grady, who had never worked for a campaign or dabbled in politics before this job, didn't know what to expect from Republicans when he started showing up. He was hired on a Thursday and got in the truck with his camera the next day. So far, there haven't been any ugly incidents.
"I'm representing the Democratic Party," Grady said, "so I have to present myself in a respectful way."
Burr returns the courtesy and uses Grady as an icebreaker, instructing the crowd to wave to the camera before explaining who is operating it. Burr compliments Grady and jokes that he'll be swayed to vote for Burr when the campaign is over.
"If [the Democratic Party] is dumb enough to pay him for every public appearance I make," Burr told the country club crowd in Sanford, "I want to make him the first millionaire financed by the Democratic Party."