John Fetterman’s TikTok Whisperer – The New York Times

Newt Gingrich was not completely happy. It was the night time of Dec. 6, minutes earlier than the US Senate race in Georgia was known as for Raphael Warnock, and over on the Fox News present “Hannity,” the finger-pointing for Herschel Walker’s imminent loss had begun. One main perpetrator: TikTok.

TikTok? The Chinese-owned social media platform, which hadn’t even existed originally of Donald J. Trump’s presidency, ought to be banned “for nationwide safety causes,” Mr. Gingrich mentioned. “But so long as it is authorized,” he continued, “we have now to be taught to compete in a spot like that, as a result of that is the place Generation Z will get such a excessive proportion of their info.”

“We need to discover ways to be aggressive inside it,” he added.

That is one — and certain the one — level on which Mr. Gingrich and Annie Wu Henry would agree.

At 26, Ms. Henry — or @Annie_Wu_22, as she’s recognized on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok — had been a comparatively low-degree staffer since July on Senator-elect John Fetterman’s marketing campaign towards Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania’s US Senate race, when she took over Mr. Fetterman’s TikTok account.

“John already had this wonderful comms group working for him, and he himself had been a Twitter man for years,” Ms. Henry, mentioned on a video name from her condo within the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. She was carrying sweats and a hoodie (“very on-model at the moment,” she mentioned with fun). “But we have been capable of transfer his voice and his message to different platforms,” ​​she mentioned.

And these different platforms have been even “extra vital than it may need been usually,” Ms. Henry mentioned, as a result of Mr. Fetterman could not be out on the path after his stroke in May.

Mrs. Henry rapidly grew to become, in line with Mr. Fetterman’s director of communications, Joe Calvello, their “TikTok Queen.” The account accrued greater than 240,000 followers in three months, with three million likes and tens of tens of millions of views. Mrs. Henry’s was capable of make the enjoyable severe, and the intense enjoyable; and her motto — in life and on TikTok — is “embrace the cringe.” That is, let the world see you as your messy, genuine self.

Of course it is advisable have a candidate who’s keen to allow you to do that. “John is not an Instagram dude” — polished, rigorously curated — “and it additionally would not be him to place him on TikTok dancing round,” she mentioned. “But if we will use a sort of a bizarre, quirky sound and edit our messages to be just a little, effectively, not messy, however not superrefined, it aligns with who he’s, who this marketing campaign is.”

Some of her hits: the video of Dr. Oz boasting about rising up “south of Philadelphia” adopted by a map exhibiting that on the opposite aspect of the water is … New Jersey, overlaid with Smash Mouth’s “All Star” (“Somebody as soon as advised me the world goes to roll me/ I ain’t the sharpest instrument within the shed”).

Another certainly one of her extra chopping examples: a trippy TikTok duet of the heavy steel puppets in Psychostick’s “Numbers (I Can Only Count to Four)” with Dr. Oz being unable to rely the variety of homes he owns.

While she didn’t create Mr. Fetterman’s response to Dr. Oz’s notorious crudités video, through which he complains concerning the value of “crudités” and conflates the Philly grocery shops Wegmans and Redner’s, she did have a eureka fund-elevating second. For any donation above $5, donors would obtain a sticker that learn: “Wegners: Let Them Eat Crudité.” Very rapidly, the cash rolled in.

“Annie is like this generational power,” mentioned a younger political operative often called Memes. He runs a Twitter account known as @OrganizerMemes, an aggregator for intelligent political photos and texts, which additionally serves as a spot the place harried younger staff can vent with out being outed to their bosses. (Memes is 25, works in politics and wish to hold his job, therefore the anonymity.)

He considers Ms. Henry an in depth buddy, though they simply met non-just about for the primary time in Georgia, when Ms. Henry made a final-minute choice to fly to Georgia and assist get out the Asian vote for Senator Warnock through the runoff.

“Young persons are typically not trusted on campaigns to do stuff,” Memes mentioned. “Annie is what occurs while you belief younger individuals to do what they’re good at.”

Mrs. Henry grew up in a rural, deeply conservative city in York County, Pa., the one youngster of Tom and Beth Henry, each particular training academics. She was adopted in China at 13 months.

When her exhausted and thrilled dad and mom have been handed their new daughter, Mr. Henry mentioned, the nurse advised them, “This one may be very proud, she is going to get what she needs in life.”

From a really early age, her dad and mom mentioned, injustice would make her head explode. Her liberal however devoutly Methodist dad and mom despaired after they couldn’t get their daughter to go to church with them as soon as she realized what homosexual marriage was, and that their church would not enable it.

“I believe as a result of she was adopted in China and we had only a few different ethnic races in our city, she may need felt like an underdog herself,” her father mentioned. “Sometimes she was picked on. But when she noticed another person being picked on, she was livid.”

She received her first smartphone in highschool and was tweeting concerning the 2012 election earlier than she might vote. Four years in the past, she led the Black Lives Matter protests in her largely white hometown.

And it was her father who first advised her about Mr. Fetterman. “When he was mayor of Braddock, I admired him for actually serving to individuals who have been down and out, for standing up for the frequent individual,” Mr. Henry mentioned. “When he introduced he was occupied with operating for Senate, I advised Annie, ‘This is a person it is advisable take into consideration. This is somebody you’ll be able to assist.’”

She graduated from Lehigh University in 2018 — her honors thesis was concerning the intersection of id and social media — after which labored a sequence of jobs: organizing for a few native Philadelphia politicians and doing social media for a bridal firm to pay the payments.

At the start of the pandemic, she wrote an essay that received consideration about coping with her ethnicity for the primary time and feeling really afraid as an Asian American in a rustic the place the president was calling Covid-19 “the China Flu.” Wearing a masks in public, she would remind herself to “look pleasant” and never sneeze or cough.

Last 12 months, she made her first viral tweet with a buddy: a Stop Asian Hate meme that received tens of millions of views, helped alongside by reposts from celebrities together with Chrissy Teigen and Ellen Pompeo.

Sophie Ota, Mr. Fetterman’s digital director, employed her on the finish of July. The subsequent few months, Ms. Henry mentioned, have been a blur. There have been no days off. There was no time to take a look at what pundits have been saying concerning the predicted “pink wave,” and Ms. Henry and different workers members assiduously tuned out the information.

Mrs. Henry was additionally one of many solely individuals on the marketing campaign who had a automotive, which meant she was driving co-staff from one a part of the state to the opposite, logging about 1,000 miles per week; the joke was that she had memorized the Pennsylvania turnpike, and knew all the most effective relaxation stops and low joints. (At one level the compliance officer, who checks on staffers’ bills, checked out what number of lattes she was shopping for and wished to know who she was shopping for espresso for each day. They have been only for her.)

While she and Mr. Fetterman have been typically somewhere else, she would flip up at occasions early so she might shoot and publish pictures of the crowds, the strains, the individuals. At most occasions there was a tracker: a man from the Oz group who monitored the goings-on.

“That’s actually frequent,” Ms. Henry mentioned, “however this man was there largely to see if he might report John messing up phrases so they may make enjoyable of John’s well being. He recorded John’s youngsters too. There are methods to do that the place you’re not impolite and disrespectful.” Mrs. Henry had a remaining phrase of contempt: “And he was utilizing a camcorder.

Ms Henry has a reasonably excessive on-line profile aside from her Fetterman connection. Her private Instagram account (which has greater than 80,000 followers) alternates info on how one can get entangled preventing racism and defending abortion rights with selfies with rally friends like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker or the actress Kerry Washington.

And Ms. Henry will not be shy about supporting low-paying political work with a aspect hustle or two. She has teamed up not solely with nonprofits that promote reproductive rights or defend democracy, but additionally with the occasional pores and skin cream or vibrator producer.

Political tchotchkes and popular culture references — “simply little references to individuals I look as much as — fill her condo. Her doormat reads, “In this home, we perceive that primary human rights will not be political points and that science is a matter of truth not opinion. Welcome.”

Taylor Swift merch is scattered round, and signed copies of books by Jimmy Carter and Gloria Steinem lie on the espresso desk. Next to her door is a tote bag that reads: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Miss Elections.”

She is making an attempt to compensate for her actual life after the blur of the previous few months — answering emails, paying a rushing ticket and, maybe most significantly, snagging tickets to the upcoming Taylor Swift live performance. (She and Mr. Fetterman’s spouse, Giselle, have “textual content bonded” over Taylor Swift, she mentioned.) She is single and unemployed, however like a lot of her friends, not panicked.

“I do not know the way that is going to play out, and I do not essentially need to know,” she mentioned. “I do not assume I’ll have this, like, one massive dream job without end.” She mentioned she does not assume she needs to work on the Hill, though a current Instagram publish options her trying very Jackie O, mysteriously visiting the White House.

And she is having fun with that first style of superstar. She mentioned that she had lately been strolling down the road and a person rolled down his window and yelled, “Are you Annie?” “I mentioned ‘Yes,’ however kinda stunned/confused,” she texted to me. Then he shouted, “Thanks for all you probably did,” and sped off.

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