MaryKate Ryan looks positively giddy in the photo she posted to Instagram of her handshake with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The comments and emojis from her friends reflect the same enthusiasm. “Wowowowow this is incredible!” “Shook. Blessed. Incredible.” “What a thrill!”
Ryan, 26, of Brooklyn, waited two and a half hours last week in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park for her turn in the Democratic presidential candidate’s “selfie line.” Hers was one of about 4,000 photos that Warren posed for that night.
Experts describe Warren’s selfie-line operation as a political phenomenon that both taps into voters’ desire to feel a personal connection to candidates and capitalizes on an age of self-promotion through social media. The Massachusetts senator spends just seconds posing for each photo, but the impression that she is relatable — and prefers the company of everyday voters over corporate donors — endures online, experts say.
President Donald Trump, former Vice President Joe Biden and others in very different ways also are appealing to voters’ need to be see, heard and understood.
“People have been voting for the candidate who can feel your pain for years,” said Rebecca Katz, a New York-based progressive strategist. “People want to see themselves in who they vote for her, they want someone who gets it. It still comes down to who you want to have a beer with.”
Warren, who is ascendant in the polls, virally advertises her likability through the so-called selfies, experts said.
“It’s not only about the person posing with Warren. It's also about their friends who will see it and think, ‘She seems cool and approachable,’” said Evan Siegfried, a New York-based Republican strategist.
Trump creates an emotional affinity with his base in a different way, experts said. His aides have long said he uses Twitter to speak directly to the public without the filter of the news media. The Republican also continues to draw massive crowds to his campaign rallies, where supporters listen raptly as he riffs on current events.
Saundra Kiczenski, 40, of Michigan, who has been to 29 of the president’s rallies, told The Wall Street Journal: “Donald Trump told me that we have a voice, and now I stand up for myself.”
"It’s a very different relationship, but it's still a personal connection," Siegfried said. “A lot of his base even before he was the GOP nominee felt that they had been abused by politicians on both sides of the aisle."
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor who researches political communication, said the tweet for Trump is different from what the selfie is to Warren.
“The voice that Trump speaks in on Twitter is not an intimate voice,” she said. “He’s promulgating. It may be stream of consciousness, but it’s a different kind of exchange. You’re not in the tweet. You’re in the selfie.”
Biden, meanwhile, has used retail campaigning as a more traditional means of connecting with voters, Jamieson noted, though he faced a handful of charges from women earlier in his campaign that his physical style made them uncomfortable.
In more recent months, the former vice president has adopted a less tactile approach, often taking selfies instead. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and other Democrats vying for the nomination also aren’t strangers to the selfie with voters.
But, by and large, it’s Warren who has claimed the selfie for her brand.
“You see, it’s not just about the pictures,” she wrote Thursday in an email appeal for campaign contributions. “It’s about having face-to-face, one-on-one conversations with thousands of people. Yeah, it took a while. I was there for four hours. But so was the last guy in line.”
Warren, whose campaign also occasionally films her surprising her small-dollar donors with a thank-you phone call, hosted an impromptu selfie line later in the week at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
Ryan, who had her photo taken with Warren, stressed that she believes the senator's policy-centric campaign is more what sets her apart. Ryan evoked Warren’s “I have a plan for that” motto.
“People want authenticity, but they also want your plan,” Ryan said. “She’s in that sweet spot of having both.”