You know that stress-soaked feeling by now:
The presidency hangs in the balance and a deluge of data is streaming at you on cable television, where stat-nerds like MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki and CNN’s John King rush through the latest ballot tallies of various swing states, illustrated on enormous, high-tech maps.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) decided to dial it back a bit.
Scranton’s second-most famous native politician printed up a big, low-tech map of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and, 30 minutes after the polls closed Tuesday, started posting brief videos of his own analysis on Twitter.
The vibe: Mr. Rogers looking into the camera and saying, “Hey neighbor, let’s go to the map.”
Casey hails from a Democratic family famous for digging deep into the data of statewide elections, and expected to explain all that for voters and some reporters just for election night. But as social media strategy goes, this was new territory for the usually stoic three-term senator.
And then as Election Day became Election Week, as the tally in Pennsylvania accumulated slowly — thanks to the cumbersome job of counting millions of mail ballots — the task suddenly looked far more “consuming,” Casey said.
But he stuck to it.
“I thought it would be pretty limited,” Casey told Clout. “Well, from there it just kind of took off.”
Casey credits the “particular quaint appeal” of his low-tech approach. His analysis is also self-aware. He started a Twitter video Wednesday with the Mr. Rogers theme song, a shout-out to the late Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh native famous for his public television show for children.
“Hi neighbor,” Casey said, borrowing the show’s iconic opening and a reference to the sweater Rogers always wore for broadcasts. “I’ve been hearing a lot about this sweater. But we shouldn’t focus on the sweater. We should focus on the votes, the mail-in ballots that are coming in all across Pennsylvania.”
With that, Casey dropped the sweater and pointed to his map. A star was born. A torch was passed.
By Thursday evening, Casey was 23 installments into his series. He broke it up with some dad-joke posts. Example: “Everyone’s been asking me about my map, so here’s my official statement: Geology rocks but geography is where it’s at," Casey tweeted Thursday.
There were blooper-reels too, like the video he tweeted, busting up in laughter Wednesday as the whiteboard he was using to show vote tallies in Bucks County kept falling off its easel.
And there were cable news-like split-screen shots, like his video appearance Wednesday with his map in the Twitter feed of Democratic colleague U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut.
Finally, Thursday afternoon, the competition came calling.
CNN’s King, with Wolf Blitzer as wingman, went map-to-map with Casey, who, as always, was broadcasting from his home in Scranton, with a backdrop of a barrister’s bookcase and a wall full of diplomas and other framed documents.
King, from a glitzy studio, posed questions about Casey’s analysis — “when you look at your map …” — as the senator asserted that Scranton native Joe Biden would prevail in Pennsylvania, driven in part by strong numbers in Philadelphia and mail ballots yet to be counted.
“I think it is inevitable,” Casey told CNN, praising Biden for traversing the state, the map in the background. “You have to go everywhere. You have to have a message for every part of the state."
Casey now wonders if his map will find a place in some political museum once this history is written. He also jokes that another career could be in the offing.
Clout had to ask: Should Kornacki and King be looking over their shoulder for competition in 2024?
“They should be worried about their maps, I think, but maybe not worried about their jobs," Casey said of his low-key, low-tech approach. “Maybe it humanizes the process. It’s not as mechanical.”