Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman’s campaign to troll Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz into defeat has dominated Facebook and Twitter over the last few weeks. But on Thursday, the campaign announced it is launching an official TikTok account to expand the reach of its already viral videos.
The campaign formally launched the TikTok account with a video of Fetterman wearing his signature black hoodie and speaking directly to the camera. In the short video, Fetterman makes an expected jab at Oz and the festering controversy over the authenticity of the Trump-endorsed candidate’s Pennsylvania roots.
“I’m on TikTok now. Woo hoo!” Fetterman says at the end of the video.
The campaign’s decision to join TikTok comes on the heels of a series of viral social media videos attacking Oz. Earlier in the week. Twitter users dug up an old video of Oz shopping at a Redner’s grocery store in Pennsylvania. While the video was intended to criticize the increase in inflation under the Biden administration, Oz was quickly mocked by Twitter users and the Fetterman campaign for his use of the word “crudité” and for seemingly conflating the names of two state supermarkets, Redner’s and Wegmans, into “Wegners.”
Responding to the video, Fetterman said, “In PA we call this a… veggie tray.”
The Fetterman campaign announced on Tuesday that it had raised more than $500,000 just one day after Oz’s crudité gaffe went viral.
TikTok began to gain traction in the US in 2018, and it wasn’t until the 2020 cycle before politicians and their campaign arms started creating accounts and investing in the platform. This year, more politicians than ever are active on TikTok, but Democrats and left-leaning candidates have been the quickest to adapt.
“As this campaign has since the start, we will continue to meet voters wherever they are at and have a whole lot of fun doing it,” Joe Calvello, spokesperson for the Fetterman campaign, said in a statement to The Verge on Thursday.
Pennsylvania is a must-win seat for Democrats hoping to secure a Senate majority following the midterm elections. In 2020, President Joe Biden won the state by little more than 1 percent, effectively marking it as a toss-up this cycle. With only a few months before the November elections, the youth vote in Pennsylvania could be more necessary than ever if Democrats plan to win the state. A recent study by Tufts University in Massachusetts found that Pennsylvania is one out of only a handful of states in which the youth vote could disproportionately decide the winner.
That outsized youth impact is a particular focus for Fetterman’s team. Speaking to The Verge on Tuesday, Calvello said that the Fetterman campaign’s TikTok account would be run by a Gen Z-aged staffer with around 25,000 on her personal account. By placing the account in a young person’s hands, the campaign hopes to create content that feels natural for the platform.
Still, the Fetterman campaign touts a commanding lead against Oz in recent polls, including a Fox News survey that showed Fetterman leading by 11 points.
While coming under fire for failures to address harmful election misinformation, political campaigns still view social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as powerhouses for fundraising. In an interview with The Verge on Tuesday, Alex Kellner, managing partner director at Bully Pulpit Interactive, an online strategy firm, said, “There’s still a lot of money being spent on Facebook, but maybe it’s more for acquisition, fundraising, and communicating with your existing supporters to get them to volunteer and to be excited.”
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing, and the app’s potential to leak sensitive US data to the Chinese government has been cause for alarm amongst Republicans and Democrats. Earlier this summer, the Biden administration banned the app’s use on White House or federal government devices for security reasons, as first reported by Politico.
Fetterman’s online jabs at Oz have hit a sweet spot on social platforms like Facebook, which increasingly surface low-production video content on user feeds. With only a few seconds to grab a voter’s attention as they scroll, experts say more authentic content tends to receive greater engagement than highly produced campaign ads.
As the Fetterman camp sees it, that gives them a rare advantage on social platforms that are often seen as slanted toward extreme views and reactionary politics. “John’s followers will see brand new content specifically for TikTok, and they can expect to keep up with John as he meets people across the Commonwealth,” Calvello said. “John is a unique candidate whose real, authentic message resonates on social media, as TikTok users will see in his posts.”