Cory Booker

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker snaps a selfie during a 2020 presidential campaign stop in Winnsboro in February.

"Can I have a photo?" might be the most frequent — and increasingly more vital — question for candidates in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.

As more voters have camera phones and the social media accounts that go with them, candidates are adding time at the end of stump speeches to accommodate dozens of supporters seeking a selfie or snapshot.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Peter Buttigieg spoke for about 15 minutes to a crowd of more than 200 at a Columbia banquet hall last month and then spent twice as much time standing next to the stage to have his photo taken with supporters.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey spent roughly 45 minutes posing for selfies with voters after a town hall at a Winnsboro high school in February. Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke stops for photos while wading through large crowds on his way out of events.

And U.S. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is known to hang around after a campaign stop to get her photo with everyone who asks. Her staff will include up to an hour of snapshots when scheduling her events, said Sam Coleman, the senator's South Carolina campaign spokesman.  

"This is how we're campaigning in 2019," Coleman said.

Pete Buttigieg

Supporters wait in line to have their photos taken with Peter Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., (foreground) during a 2020 campaign stop in Columbia in March.

The time smiling into smartphones next to a stranger is well-spent to 2020 candidates in an early primary state where one-on-one interactions can boost their chances for a good finish that propels them deeper into the race. No one is saying selfies supersede a candidate's stances at the ballot box, but they sure can help in the growing digital world.

“I think that in South Carolina, you don’t win it by doing big rallies where you’re far away from the people," Booker said in Orangeburg last month after spending nearly an hour of taking photos. "That’s how people really get a chance to feel you, not just hear you."

The selfies and snapshots are free advertising for campaigns. They end up on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter timelines of voters' relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers.

"Being in a person's newsfeed can be more important than being in the newspaper," said Tyler Jones, who worked on the Draft Beto effort and is expected to join the Texan's presidential campaign.

Social media is a "​great equalizer" for voters, who can share quickly how they visited a 2020 hopeful, said Jerusalem Demsas, South Carolina campaign spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who also routinely spends time with voters taking selfies. 

"When you see real people with a real candidate, it makes the campaign that much more real," she said.

The photos with voters also are part of a candidate's branding. 

Sign up for updates!

Get the latest political news from The Post and Courier in your inbox.


"She's not out at some high-dollar fundraiser, and she's not meeting with lobbyists," Coleman said of Warren. "We're meeting with everyday people. It's unfiltered and uncontrolled."

Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand poses for a selfie at the Soda City market in Columbia during her first South Carolina 2020 presidential campaign visit in February.

But the post-speech photo line is balancing act. More snapshots means more potential for delays.

"Would you rather stay an hour for pictures or do another event in another city and meet even more people?" Jones said. "If everyone gets a picture at a Columbia event, you might have people waiting for you in Orangeburg and being late to that event can be seen as a sign of disrespect."

Campaign staffers all shared the same advice for voters so photo lines run smoothly and candidates stay on schedule: Have the cameras on their phones ready to fire when they reach the candidates.  

The selfie campaign is relatively new. The last time the Democratic presidential primary was this wide open, the 2008 race, voters were much less likely to carry camera phones, and the interactions with candidates were very different. 

"They would look them in the eye, shake their hand and ask them a question," Jones said. "The most common question now is, 'Can I get a selfie?' It's become slightly less personable, but they will have the photo for the rest of time."

Follow Shain on Facebook and Twitter

Columbia Bureau Chief

Andy Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

We're improving out commenting experience.

We’ve temporarily removed comments from articles while we work on a new and better commenting experience. In the meantime, subscribers are encouraged to join the conversation at our Post and Courier Subscribers group on Facebook.