Something Weird’s Happening In This Senate Race: Fun

More than anything, though, it’s Oz who has been on the defensive from Fetterman’s barbs — something that is evident even to fellow Republicans. “Right now, Fetterman really has Oz dancing to whatever it is he wants to talk about,” said the Republican primary communications adviser. “I think the Fetterman campaign is doing a good job of making Oz react to things, and you never want to be in that position as a campaign.”

Team Fetterman also insists that while they may be shitposting and trolling Oz mercilessly, they’re not trolling trolling. They’re also not reveling in attacks against average citizens such as teachers or librarians, unlike the two influential online figures arguably most responsible for the return of the anti-gay “groomer” rhetoric: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw and Brooklyn real estate agent Chaya Raichik, who runs the @LibsOfTikTok accounts.

“There’s an edge to it, but it’s not mean or personal, and I think sometimes the Republicans try to go as low as possible,” Katz, the Fetterman adviser, said. “I would say we’re not necessarily going high, but we’re not personal.”

The Republican campaign adviser who spoke with BuzzFeed News insisted they wanted to see Oz win, but mostly just to see Fetterman lose. And while they attacked Oz as a weak and arrogant candidate who struggles to communicate politically, they said they didn’t believe most Pennsylvanians would be casting ballots based on tweets.

“It’s an online, alternate reality game that’s playing out on Twitter,” they said of the social media spat, insisting it reflected poorly on both candidates for not engaging with voters on “the real issues.”

But in addition to drowning the airwaves in ads that paint Fetterman as a tattooed and straight-talking Washington outsider who’s serious on big issues (and which make no mention of his online persona), the Democrat’s campaign understands that viral moments can translate into messaging opportunities.

“It’s not just that his tweets go viral or he has a big following on Twitter,” said Penn State’s Mallinson, “but the more traditional media outlets pick up the stuff that he’s doing and that amplifies it and amplifies his message.”

“The day-to-day stuff that happens on Twitter does not really have a life outside of the app,” the Democratic comms adviser said. “But these moments, like the crudité thing… The thing is, if you’re smart enough and fast enough and you are able to create something that spreads like fire, then it lives outside of the app.

“I just hope people pay attention to this race and what they’re doing online, and the lesson is we don’t have to scare the shit out of people to get them to vote,” they added.

Katz said they had indeed been trying to chart a different course than other campaigns of recent years where she believes “some Democratic hatred of Trump and his disciples has blinded smart strategy for a while.”

“You need to meet voters where they are. And it doesn’t always have to be with doom and gloom,” she said. “It’s been a hard couple of months and years. It’s OK to have a little fun now and then.” ●