Back about this time in the Republican primary for president in 2016, Jeb Bush released his logo Jeb! to a lot of laughs. It was so funny that Jeb! lasted longer as a joke than Bush did as a candidate. Jeb Bush never exclaimed anything in his life so why should his logo exclaim him?
Beto!, on the other hand, is a walking exclamation point. From the counters he’s standing on to the skateboards he’s riding, Beto! knows how to make an entrance. And he’s making three of them today in North Carolina. He’ll be in Charlotte, Greensboro and Chapel Hill. This is the first barnstorming event by a presidential candidate so far. I’m sure there will be more.
Beto! is trying hard to take on a Bobby Kennedy aura. He’s already got the teeth. And he’s trying to capture the spontaneity of the Kennedy campaign, but it feels a bit too canned to me. While Kennedy famously stood on the backs of cars and trucks to address adoring crowds that were mobbing his entourage, Beto! walks into a crowded restaurant at lunch time, climbs up on the countertop and starts talking to the diners. It makes great video, though.
He’s trying to give the impression of a campaign in motion. The video he released on twitter when he kicked off his campaign is just a series of clips of him talking in front of audiences in different venues. His campaign lists the number of stops he’s made in so many days. It’ll be a pace that’s tough to sustain for a year and a half.
Beto! is also clearly targeting younger voters. He’s rarely in a coat and tie and many of his stops are either college campuses or the types of places young people hang out. In North Carolina, he’s at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, Natty Green’s Brew Pub (at lunchtime) in Greensboro and UNC-Chapel Hill in the afternoon. It’s probably a smart strategy. If he can energize the under thirty set, he can grab a small but significant base in the crowded primary field.
O’Rourke is building a campaign based on the one he ran against Ted Cruz in 2018 in Texas. It’s a large decentralized field operation that relies heavily on volunteers. He shunned consultants and worked hard to create earned media that often turned into viral videos. It helped him build the list that raked in $6.1 million in the 24 hours after his announcement. He’s building a Bernie Sanders 2.0 campaign. It’ll be interesting to see if it works.
Beto! has a natural affinity for publicity while looking sincere. He burst onto the national social media scene two years ago when he and follow Texas Congressman Republican Will Hurd took a road trip from Texas to Washington after a flight got cancelled. They live-streamed the trip and got followers from across the country. Shortly afterwards, Beto! was a candidate for US Senate.
Beto! clearly understands the modern media and political environment as well as anybody in the race. He’s also employing cutting edge tactics that would scare a lot of other campaigns. He understands that we have few really persuadable voters in a general election and he’s building an army of self-motivated volunteers. We can see a straight line from Obama’s 2008 campaign, through Bernie’s 2016 campaign to the one O’Rourke is running. He’s adding the earned and social media component that Trump used to the massive field operations of Obama and Sanders. It could be a winning formula.
In the meantime, I’m just wondering what Beto! will stand on today.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >