How politician Ken Russell is taking over TikTok by being himself

One of @kenforflorida’s most prominent TikToks, posted in June, begins like many others on the video-sharing app: with a woman crouching on the floor to change into a skimpy outfit to a song by Megan Thee Stallion.

The thousands of users who stuck around to watch the end of the video, however, were struck by an unexpected turn of events: Instead of a change of outfit from a content creator, they saw the Florida Democrat Ken Russell falls to the floor in time to the song before staring closely into the camera and asking, “Hey, are you registered to vote? There is a primary on August 23 and the general election is November 8!

@kenforflorida #stitch with @skylarstecker Aaah @Che Durena just checking to see if your followers #VOTE ♬ original sound – Ken Russell

“Best political ad ever,” one user commented. “Bro is a master of influence,” added another. “THAT WAS SMOOTH. Who do you recommend voting for because the world is upside down,” yet another asked. The video got 75,000 likes. But it’s not even close to its most popular .

A number of politicians have taken to TikTok, hoping to reach younger generations of potential voters where they spend most of their screen time. Two years ago, the likes of Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) were running the show. But these days, no one does it quite like Russell, who is running as a Democrat for the House of Representatives from Florida’s 27th district midterm in 2022.

A former water sports company owner, Russell turned to local politics in 2013 after discovering the park his children were playing in was contaminated with toxic soil. Two years later, he won the election to represent his district on the Miami City Commission, a role he has held ever since.

Despite years of working as a serious politician, his presence on TikTok has been called “completely unbalanced” – a definition that the candidate himself used in one of his many viral videos. If the comment sections and number of likes are any indication, the app’s users love it.

In a hugely popular TikTok, which reached 25 million viewers, Russell called out another user, @jfauch09, for repeatedly polluting, littering the ocean with beer cans and bragging about it on the app. He asked his followers to find him so he could tell him about his destruction of the environment, a feat he accomplished.

@kenforflorida I have friends who would love to meet @joe f. #fishandwildlife #coastguard #stateattorney @SurfriderFoundation @captainsforcleanwater #waterquality #pollution ♬ original sound – true

In another video, Russell claims he is chased by his neighbors for reminding them that their mail-in ballots finally arrived in the mail. The answers ? “I hope you win.” “I couldn’t vote for you because I’m in Palm Beach County but I already voted by mail!” “I went ahead and requested my mail-in ballot just so I could vote for you!”

It’s not just about memes and viral sounds: a video in which he answers a follower’s question about his positions on policies – listing clean water, LGBTQ+ equality, gun reform fire and the protection of reproductive rights as his priorities – got 572,000 likes. Another, tagged #nerdtok, had him explain his stance on niche water management policy in an accessible way.

What really seems to set him aside, though, is the general vibe of his videos: whether he’s assembling someone else’s TikTok, jumping on a viral sound, or responding to his followers in the comments, he retains a silly and approachable aura. In short, he does not feel like a politician at all. He feels like someone who just uses TikTok.

“I try to entertain and engage, then I try to educate, all in the same post. Sometimes it’s just entertaining, hoping they’ll stick around or they’ll will follow me and then they will be informed. My most successful video was just to let people know that there is a primary: millions of people who did not know it before know it, and I hope that will increase the number of votes,” Russell told the Daily Dot. “There are three universities and colleges in the district where I’m running for Congress. And I know they’re watching. I know these young people 18, 19, 20 years are watching. Will they commit? I hope so!”

@kenforflorida Nothing but business today in @City of Miami ♬ original sound – Farbsy

Russell dropped out of the Florida Senate race earlier this year and is now pushing for his nomination for Florida’s 27th District in the Democratic primary, which was held Aug. 23. Other candidates in the race are Angel Montalvo and Annette Taddeo, who dropped her bid for governor of Florida. All three are hoping to overthrow the seat of Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.).

An internal poll released by Taddeo’s campaign in June showed a 36-point edge over Russell, but it’s possible his online prominence will make him more of a fight when Florida voters head to the polls.

For Russell, TikTok was meant to be just an outlet. “Since I’ve been running for Congress, my campaign team has taken care of my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they’ve left me with nothing to do. So I turned to TikTok,” he said. “They were actually very concerned, because they saw me posting things without any rehearsals, makeup or script. They tried to stop me at first, but now they’ve accepted it and just stay away.

The difference with other social media platforms, he said, is stark.

“When Twitter came into being, it allowed sarcastic, sarcastic, or witty politicians to suddenly become famous by reacting to situations. They wrote their one or two sentences and everyone loved it and it increased their audience. Facebook came along and it was much more about engagement, but it also allowed you to buy your audience – and that has been the political social media paradigm over the past few cycles,” he said. . “Then here comes TikTok, and nobody knows what to do about it. You can’t buy your audience on it, you can’t have it managed by your consultant. You must be yourself. And that’s a good thing for some people and a bad thing for politicians who only succeed because people don’t see who they really are.

Far from seeing it as a silly dance app – a mistake many still make – Russell quickly realized that many young and marginalized people are turning to TikTok to find community, connect and communicate about deeply political topics, such as reproductive and sexual rights or the environment.

As a left-leaning Democrat, he is well placed to listen and interact with people who may vote for the first time in 2022.

“If you’re sincere and you’re in it for the right reason, and you speak and respond to your audience, you’ll resonate here and they’ll find an audience that can affect an election,” he said.

@kenforflorida What is the best use of public land? Happy people. Yes, this skatepark is UNDER I-95 in downtown Miami. Bravo @III POINTS @Club Space Miami @Lot11skatepark @Davidsinopoli @invt305 Elias Garcia Sel.6 @Nick Katz City of Miami #skate #skateboarding #rave #edm #techno #house #youngmallgrab ♬ original sound – Ken Russell

Russell says he’s even managed to chat a bit with people he’d otherwise have little in common with thanks to the app. For example, after posting a TikTok announcing a project to collect guns from the Miami area to send to Ukraine, he caught the attention of gun fanatics who showered him with comments and messages. accusing him of wanting to repeal the Second Amendment.

“I stayed humorous and upbeat, engaged instead of ignoring, and some of them reacted by saying things like ‘you know, I don’t like your gun policies, but I like to see what you are doing for drinking water. .’ They are starting to interact with my other media. Some of them are coming, and they might even vote for me,” he said.

In August, Florida will show whether TikTok’s reach can really rock an election.

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