On paper, the Minnesota House race in Apple Valley is a dream for both parties. Online, it’s a bit of a nightmare.
Ali Jimenez-Hopper, the Republican, is the wife of a U.S. Army veteran, and has an unwavering faith in God and the Second Amendment.
Erin Maye Quade, the Democrat, is the biracial, married lesbian with impeccable credentials who worked to get Barack Obama elected and gun control passed.
They have almost nothing in common. Except this: Both have published things on social media the other side thinks could take them down.
Maye Quade’s persona became the subject of scrutiny last week when conservatives dragged out a number of posts meant to throw her qualifications into question. “Macy Gray wrote a love song to a vibrator,” Maye Quade tweeted last year, “shocking no woman who has ever used one.”
It’s a good line. But not the kind DFLers want to see parading across the screens of suburban voters.
Other posts show her pissed off (“today can blow me,” she once wrote) or turned on (actor Rob Lowe is “masturbate in public sexy,” according to a January 2013 tweet).
Then there’s the one Apple Valley historians will someday call the “Wine at 1:18” post, a July 2013 Instagram photo with a richly painted thumbnail, a good glug of red wine, and the message: “It’s Tuesday at 1:18. Fuck it, Immma drink.”
Yet two sides can play at this game. Once Democrats became aware Republicans were digging into Maye Quade’s history, they turned over their own damaging dossier on Jimenez-Hopper.
On June 14, two days after 49 people were killed in a shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Jimenez-Hopper told her Facebook followers she’s armed and ready to defend herself. She’s not going to die “in a helpless blubbering heap on the floor begging for my life or my child’s life.” Hardly the requisite “thoughts and prayers for the victims’ families” that Republicans like to trot out.
Another post seemed distinctly anti-feminist. Jimenez-Hopper shared a meme that stated women “weren’t created to do everything a man can do.” The candidate added: “Men and women are not equal... what we are is equally different.”
Both parties are on high alert for clumsy statements after news broke of Nolan West, a Blaine Republican with a boy’s face and the Facebook feed of a 75-year-old South Carolinian. ("IT'S LYNCHING TIME!" West wrote on the eve of Obama’s first election.)
Whose business is it when someone stumbles on Facebook? John Rouleau’s. As director of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a GOP business group, Rouleau dug back into Maye Quade’s social media feeds and went public with the worst he unearthed. He can smell a single drop of embarrassment among a million posts.
To him, Maye Quade’s social media past suggests “poor judgment and immaturity.”
He won’t hear much disagreement from Darin Broton, who advised DFL campaigns. Without naming Maye Quade, Broton referred to “a candidate” who once posted about early-afternoon drinking. His PR advice is to own up to it and move on.
“The best recourse, if you know you’ve... posted stupid things on Facebook,” Broton says, “is to embrace that early and apologize. Maybe talk about being young.”
Maye Quade is ready to do the “embrace that early” part. But not to apologize.
“I was doing shift work, overnight, back when I worked at Target,” she says. “But honestly, trying to explain why once I had a glass of wine at 1:18 on a Tuesday isn’t worth my time.”
Maye Quade says she’s matured, but hasn’t outgrown an occasionally “bawdy” sense of humor.
“Farts are still funny,” she says. “I just tweeted about my dog’s farts last night.”
Maye Quade’s door-knocking campaign has lapped the southern suburban district she’s trying to win, and she thinks voters will remember her for what she said there. She’s talking about fighting gun violence, and a nearly 400 percent increase in childhood poverty at one district elementary school.
“The only people who ask me about it are reporters,” Maye Quade says.
Jimenez-Hopper declined to be interviewed. She’s been wary of reporters since the local press highlighted an inartful speech she made to Republicans discussing her “half-black” opponent’s lesbian “lifestyle.”
Gregg Peppin, a Republican consultant, can trace this arc of awkwardness back to the mid-’90s, when every candidate had to go on record about smoking pot. Then, post-Monica Lewinsky, reporters would ask if you’d ever cheated on your spouse. Now it’s: What’s your worst Facebook post?
“If a candidate said something when they were 18, or 25 years old, we’re going to hang it around his or her neck,” says Peppin. “I think it’s a bunch of bullshit for both parties to do it.”
But bullshit is what the political class does best. And most. Once the parties run their charges through campaign boot camp, most candidates get reduced to slogan-spouting robots. The only time you glimpse an unvarnished portrait is online, when the politician tries to get away with being human.
The perils of self-publishing have birthed a new industry, the “social media consultant” class, who swear they can put a candidate over the top with the right number of “Likes.” Save your money. It’s better spent paying guys like John Rouleau to dig into your opponent’s history.
You can’t win an election online. But you can lose one.
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