The Most Important Stop on the 2020 Campaign Trail? A Candidate’s Own Kitchen.
Today marks the swearing in of the 116th US Congress and the return of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Though it will be the most racially diverse and female-dominated House of Representatives class ever elected, no member of the freshman class has inspired the hope of progressives and drawn the ire of the establishment like New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But it’s not just her championing of policies like the Green New Deal that have shaken up the consensus in Washington. The youngest female representative in US history's efforts to invite fans and constituents into her kitchen looks like a winning engagement strategy that’s caught on with 2020 hopefuls.
It all started back in November when the representative-elect took to Instagram Live to answer questions and talk policy, all while preparing recipes like Instant Pot black bean soup and mac and cheese from the comfort of her apartment’s kitchen.
Those “stoveside chats” struck the right chord for a few reasons. Everyone loves a good cooking video, especially given that AOC shared her recipes afterward. Then there’s the fact that a recently-elected politician took the time to educate supporters about key issues and her legislative priorities at a time when other politicians might’ve been content to take a break from voter engagement. You wouldn’t think that a serious conversation about the problems with cash bail would pair well with a black bean soup, but when served by a knowledgeable and passionate politician who was working in a restaurant less than a year ago, the tastes go great together.
Finally, Ocasio-Cortez’s kitchen conversations offer a glimpse into the mundane, unglamorous reality of life as a working millennial that so many of her supporters find relatable. The fact that she’s getting her message out through a democratic medium that she and her audience understand intuitively only further drives that point home. In short, cooking on Instagram reads as off the cuff and authentic at a time when even folksy political messaging reads as focus-grouped and contrived.
Ocasio-Cortez is far from the only prominent Democrat to bring social media into the kitchen as attention shifts to the 2020 presidential election. The tactic has been embraced by multiple female elected officials, including Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s been sharing recipes since her first Thanksgiving in office, but New York’s junior Senator really upped the kitchen content in the weeks since AOC first took to Instagram Live. Gillibrand posted multiple times during the holiday season, sharing recipes for festive desserts like chocolate banana bread and berry cobbler with her followers.
Elizabeth Warren, the first Democrat to formally declare her interest in the 2020 nomination, has followed suit. Shortly after the Massachusetts senator announced the launch of her presidential exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve, she took to Instagram Live to field questions while cracking open a cold one and cooking. While the fact that she was drinking a Michelob Ultra might go down as the first gaffe of the 2020 campaign, her embrace of this off-the-cuff communication strategy could be an asset as she looks to get a head start on her competition.
Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, the skateboarding Texan who almost survived barbecue-based smears to take Ted Cruz’s senate seat. Beto was praised for his extensive use of live video to document the minutiae of life on the campaign trail, and hasn’t been content to let women get all the credit for cooking since his loss. With his track record of accessibility and a healthy amount of momentum after his hard-fought campaign propelled him to the national spotlight, it’d be a shock if Beto wasn’t fielding questions while serving up brisket before 2019 is over.
At this point, it’s well-established that both the use of innovative mediums (like Obama’s strong social media game in 2008) and attention-grabbing messages (like George HW Bush’s dog-whistling Willie Horton ad in 1992) can swing the outcome of presidential elections. As the 2020 campaign heats up, don’t be surprised when Democratic candidates broadcast culinary town halls in an effort to appear relatable, accessible, and authentic. Given that (barring impeachment) they’ll be up against an incumbent who subsists on a diet of McDonald’s and likely hasn’t cooked anything in his life, campaigning from the kitchen is at least a useful way for Dems to put some distance between themselves and Trump.