Alt-Media Brings In New Iowans For Progressive Candidates

Photo via campaign

By Isabella Murray

January 28, 2020

Endorsements from celebrities prominent in alternative media spheres could strengthen progressive candidates amid questions of electability.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders recently saw surrogate visits or new endorsements from big names in the world of podcasting, TV shows and documentary films. Podcaster and TV star Jonathan Van Ness, podcaster Joe Rogan and filmmaker Michael Moore’s support of the candidates may be able to drive new waves of apathetic or disaffected Iowans to the polls, a potential voting bloc who mostly stray away from watching cable news or reading traditional news publications.

“The biggest party is the non-voter. And a lot of those non-voters listen to podcasts,” Ricardo Ligas, 26, of Waterloo, said after a Sanders campaign rally in Cedar Falls on Saturday. “There’s general consensus that … FOX News and CNN are there for their advertising.”

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Van Ness stars in the Netflix show Queer Eye and has his own podcast, Getting Curious. While out in Iowa as a surrogate for Elizabeth Warren, the LGBTQ activist told a large group of young people crammed into an Iowa City gay bar that when canvassing for the candidate, they should act and talk as if they were hairdressers on their “money-making day.”

“Pretend like you’re a hairdresser. It’s nine in the morning on a Saturday. That’s your money-making day. So, you’re just going to have to talk and talk and talk and talk like you’ve never talked before … on caucus day!” Van Ness encourage the students.

The niche anecdote proved to be an effective way to reign in the LGBTQ vote as the crowd erupted into cheers.

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“Personally, being an individual in [the LGBTQ] community, that’s really the only reason I came out today,” University of Iowa student Charlie Ellis, 21, said. “I look up to him a lot as an individual, and I think he’s such a strong advocate and I really think he speaks for the LGBTQ community … His supporting Elizabeth just shows me that he trusts in her that she can advocate for us. His trust in her really allows for me to caucus for her proudly.”

Ellis said Van Ness’ endorsement of Warren speaks loudly about her support for the LGBTQ community, even over the only gay candidate in the race, Pete Buttigieg.

“Someone like JVN not even endorsing another gay candidate shows me that Warren is fully in for our community,” Ellis commented at Warren and Van Ness’ joint event Sunday in Cedar Rapids.

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Cedar Rapids resident Hannah Mullan, 24 is a Warren supporter who also attended Sunday’s Cedar Rapids town hall. She was introduced to the senator after hearing her as a guest on Van Ness’ podcast.

“I’ve been a supporter for about three months. She was on Getting Curious and that’s how I heard her story. That’s how I really got to know her,” Mullan said. “It seems like she’s for the people. It’s not about the money.”

But Warren isn’t the only candidate who rolled out surrogates this weekend. Sanders had the famously progressive filmmaker Michael Moore speak on his behalf at events in Eastern Iowa. And while Moore’s heyday was in years’ past, he too had a special bond with older progressives who grew up with his films.

Black Hawk County Supervisor Chris Schwartz, a Sanders endorser, said that Moore created the films that “informed our movement” to a crowd of excitable supporters.

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In his speech, Moore told the crowd to tell the people who have “given up and stopped voting or who vote only occasionally” that there is “a real reason this time.”

Sanders also saw the recent endorsement of Joe Rogan, who hosts one of Apple Podcasts’ most popular shows. Rogan, a hero to many politically disenchanted men across America, holds hours-long interviews on topics ranging from sports, politics and comedy and has millions of dedicated followers on YouTube alone. His interview with Sanders totals 11 million views while most of his other shows rack up a fraction of those numbers.

An early Rogan interview with Andrew Yang has been credited with giving Yang his initial big spark in his candidacy.

But Rogan comes with his own baggage. A history of offensive commentary about women and trans, gay and black people caused blowback for Sanders after his campaign touted Rogan’s endorsement.

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Ligas, at the Sanders campaign Cedar Falls event, said he used to listen to Rogan and understands the stigma behind him, but also noted that the podcaster has the potential to reach a large number of non-voters.

“I don’t like Joe, but I get that he reaches a lot of apolitical listeners,” he said. “I think there’s a demographic, and if you go to any college campus, a lot of young dudes listen. YouTubers too. I get informed from YouTubers.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden indirectly replied to Rogan’s endorsement by shortly after tweeting in support of the Trans community.

“Let’s be clear: Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time,” Biden tweeted. “There is no room for compromise when it comes to basic human rights.”

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But some Sanders event attendees think that this might be a great way to target typically apolitical Iowans.

“Typical non-voters who wouldn’t really turn out, these people who are apathetic and tired of the same old, same old — I think that it’s good to bring more people into this,” said Angelica Guerrero, 35, from Cedar Falls. “Do you want them on our side, or do you want them to go to Trump?”


by Isabella Murray
Posted 1/28/20



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