Fetterman harnesses power of social media in Senate campaign

In one of this year’s most competitive US Senate races, the biggest moments aren’t happening on the campaign trail. They are unfolding on social media.

In one blow, Democrat John Fetterman of Pennsylvania launched an online petition for his Republican rival, heart surgeon Dr. in neighboring Pennsylvania.

On the other hand, Fetterman paid $2,000 for a plane to fly a banner to weekend beachgoers on the Jersey Shore welcoming Oz back to Garden State. And in particularly viral posts, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, star of the infamous MTV show “Jersey Shore,” and “Little” Steven Van Zandt of “The Sopranos” and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band recorded videos telling Oz to come back. home.

“No one wants to see you embarrassed,” says Van Zandt. “Then go back to Jersey, where you belong.”

For a campaign that could cost more than $100 million, the stunts are cheap ways for Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, to attract attention. The millions of views come in handy for a candidate who was largely sidelined from personal appearances after suffering a stroke in May.

And it’s more than a laugh: the social media strategy can prove powerful in defining Oz as a rug seller disconnected from the state’s residents and culture.

“The reason this stands out is that he seems to be doing the best job of anyone in this election cycle of contrasting his personality with that of his opponent,” said Dante Atkins, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic campaign strategist who did not did none work for Fetterman.

Republicans recognize that Fetterman’s social media game is excellent. But they question the value. Even at a time when most Americans use social media, many Pennsylvania voters on social media don’t see Fetterman’s material, and anyway, the election isn’t about who has the best troll game, they say.

Republicans also argue that Fetterman’s greatest successes are putting aside the issues voters are likely to consider when deciding: inflation, gas prices and the economy, for example.

“People don’t really care where I’m from,” Oz said in an interview. “They care what I stand for.”

Much of the material comes from Fetterman himself, said campaign spokesman Joe Calvello. He posts a lot on Twitter, and if Fetterman himself doesn’t post, he helps spark ideas.

He sends text messages to the campaign team saying, “‘Hey, what about this,’ or ‘Did you see this,'” Calvello said. “He’s still very involved.”

Other material comes from the campaign team developing ideas that stay within Fetterman’s brand and in the candidate’s territory, Calvello said. This includes accusing oil companies of raising gas prices.

The concept of trolling Oz, and many of the memes, also came from Fetterman, Calvello said. The idea for Snooki’s video came from brainstorming some team members, Calvello said.

The campaign team wrote the script and Snooki – who was paid less than $400 through video-sharing site Cameo – improvised some of it but didn’t get into the joke until later.

With 3.2 million views, it got the most Twitter engagement ever on Fetterman’s account, “and that’s a high bar,” said Calvello.

Van Zandt made his video for free and improvised his script after the campaign contacted him directly to see if he would cooperate, Calvello said.

It’s hard to know how much that will help Fetterman in a year when Democrats face strong political winds, including high inflation and a traditional midterm backlash against the president’s party.

Political scientists have had a hard time isolating the forces that affect how voters decide, said Christopher Borick, assistant professor of political science at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Also, voters tend to be older than the average social media user, Borick said.

Still, the Pew Research Center estimated last year that seven out of 10 Americans use social media, and it’s unquestionable that the medium is becoming more important in reaching voters.

“The proof in the pudding is that campaigns have increasingly turned to it and therefore believe it is a necessary and fundamental component,” said Borick.

Maggie McDonald, a postdoctoral fellow who studies social media in congressional campaigns at the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University, said Fetterman’s social media game is among the best, if not the best, she has ever played. it saw.

“I imagine in the next few years people will try to emulate that,” McDonald said.

In addition to making people laugh, she said she thinks Fetterman’s exploits can motivate viewers to contribute money to his campaign and pressure apathetic Democrats to come out of the wings to vote for him.

Oz tried to harness the power of social media for his campaign and tried to respond to Fetterman online. He drew particular attention to Fetterman’s absence from traditional retail campaigns following his stroke, including his use of a meme from the TV series “Lost”.

In response to a tweet by Fetterman about high gas prices, Oz retorted, “Curious as to why you have to fill up so often when you’re not at a campaign meeting with Pennsylvanians.”

Fetterman replied, “Man, you’re literally from Jersey,” before referring to a New Jersey state law that requires gas station attendants to fuel drivers. “I bet you don’t even know how to pump your own gas.”

The Fetterman campaign argues that its trolling of Oz is on point with issues that matter to voters. Some elements of it – such as a parody video “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” – attempt to ask whether a nine-figure man can defend ordinary people who are pressured by high gas prices.

In addition to contrasting himself with Oz, Fetterman is well versed in internet culture.

“He is extremely online, he knows his memes, he knows his internet subcultures, his campaign knows how to make things go viral and destroy his opponent with his online owners,” Atkins said.

Don’t expect posts to stop anytime soon.

Fetterman now says he will put up a billboard on the Betsy Ross Bridge, connecting the states over the Delaware River, that reminds drivers that they are leaving New Jersey for Pennsylvania “just like Dr. Oz”.


Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.


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