Hillary Clinton finally announced her vice-presidential running mate today. Senator Tim Kaine isn’t an exciting pick, but he makes sense. Clinton more or less has liberals safely on her side; Kaine is a moderate white man from Virginia, a swing state, which pretty much checks off all the demographic and electoral boxes where she needs to build up more support.
What’s more interesting is how Clinton told the public she would deliver the news: via a text from Hillary. It was the ultimate Internet age callback to the viral meme of Clinton and her now infamous sunglasses and Blackberry. But it was also a way to drum up anticipation among her supporters for an event that is, admittedly, a snoozefest for anyone but cable news producers.
That Clinton indicated she would reveal her pick first to a relatively narrow audience may seem counterintuitive. Wouldn’t a candidate want to spread the word as widely and quickly as possible? Press conferences have always been a way for candidates to drive the narrative. But in 2016, with so many social media tools at the public’s disposal, that’s no longer possible. By sharing the Clinton can shape her inevitable public address around that all that online buzz.
Since Obama’s 2008 campaign used targeted digital messaging to help put him over the top, the Democratic party has worked aggressively to build a tech infrastructure that relies on focused outreach to solidify support and get voters to the polls. Clinton’s tech team this election cycle represents the culmination of that strategy so far, and digital discipline has characterized her approach since the primaries. In that light, Clinton’s text message veep announcement today makes perfect sense.
Given that the “veepstakes” (gag) is essentially a fun time-filler for pundits, the average citizens who are going to care the most are the ones who are already passionately in Clinton’s camp. If you’ve given Clinton your phone number to get text messages, that includes you. By announcing her pick to those people first, Clinton makes that group feel part of an inner circle–while simultaneously tapping them for a donation. This kind of narrowcasting helped Obama win in 2008 and 2012. Clinton will likely rely on an even more focused version of this approach to chase votes in 2016.
But while Clinton promised the news by text to gin up support with her base first, in the end, the campaign did broadcast the Kaine announcement on Twitter as well. Given Donald Trump’s dominance on the platform, there’s no sense in Clinton taking any chances.