You say crudité, I say veggie platter. Fetterman vs. Oz race shows power of social media.
Last week, searches for the word “crudités” on Dictionary.com spiked by more than 10,000% after Dr. Mehmet Oz mentioned the raw vegetable appetizer in an online video that — for him — went viral in the worst way possible.
“Thought I’d do some grocery shopping. I’m at Wegners,” the GOP nominee in the Pennsylvania Senate race says at the outset of the TikTok video, apparently jumbling the names of supermarket chains Redner's and Wegmans by accident.
The clip continues as Oz scans the produce section and grabs a head of broccoli, a bag of whole carrots, asparagus, salsa and guacamole in an awkward attempt to make a point about inflation. Cradling his vegetables, he announces aghast that the total at the register would come to $20 — for crudité!
Except, few besides Oz seemed to know what that is.
“In PA we call this … a veggie tray,” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Oz’s Democratic opponent in the Senate race, tweeted dryly after the video started to blow up.
But even after figuring out what a “crudité” was, the internet still had many questions for Oz.
Why didn’t he have a shopping basket? Why did he feel salsa and guacamole would be appropriate dips for raw vegetables? Who eats uncooked asparagus? And why did he mention tequila as part of his crudité shopping list (aside from the fact that tequila is apparently one of the doctor’s guilty pleasures, along with Dominican cigars)?
The TikTok video has racked up 4.4 million views to date and has been shared thousands of times on Twitter, generally accompanied by snarky comments.
Fetterman wasted no time capitalizing on Oz’s social media mishap, reportedly raising $500,000 in just 24 hours after the clip went viral, about $65,000 alone from the “Wegners” stickers his team added to their campaign store. A campaign spokesman said the fundraising total from the "crudité" incident was up to about a million dollars by the end of the week. That adds to the fundraising advantage Fetterman had through the end of June, about $7 million more than Oz.
The clip and Fetterman’s response was just the latest round of trolling between the two Senate candidates, who have spent weeks embroiled in a war of memes, with the Democrat's campaign in particular winning praise for its proficiency with internet snark.
And while no single Twitter or TikTok post typically matters all that much in a run for office, Wharton School marketing professor Cait Lamberton says candidates shouldn’t ignore the power of social media to create their brand and build a community of political supporters.
The medium’s importance is even more pronounced in Pennsylvania’s heated Senate contest, which could decide whether Democrats retain their narrow majority with Vice President Kamala Harris as tiebreaker. No debates have yet been scheduled between the candidates, and Fetterman only just returned to the campaign trail after several months spent recovering from a stroke.
So up until now, social media has been the primary battleground for the two men.
When asked who’s winning, Lamberton responded: “Is that really a question?”
To be fair, Lamberton continued, Oz does have some advantages. As a TV celebrity, he’d already built a massive social media following and a national fanbase. His messaging has been disciplined and consistent, centered on characterizing Fetterman as a socialist and taking the federal government to task over inflation, she said.
But Fetterman, she says, is funny.
Among other things, the lieutenant governor’s campaign has poked fun at the residency of his Republican opponent; Oz relocated from his longtime home in New Jersey to run for Senate in Pennsylvania and has been dogged by carpetbagging accusations as a result. Earlier this year, Fetterman sent a banner plane to fly above New Jersey beachgoers with a message that said, “Hey Dr. Oz, welcome home to N.J.”
He used Cameo, the celebrity video messaging site, to commission a video from “Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who reassured Oz that he’d “be back home in Jersey soon.”
“This is only temporary,” Polizzi said in the video, which Fetterman posted on Twitter.
In yet another gag, Fetterman started a petition to get Oz inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
The trolling strategy has been effective, especially in light of the May stroke that sidelined Fetterman, Lamberton said. Because of his activity on social media, the average person who doesn’t attend political rallies or fundraisers might not have even noticed his absence, she said.
Oz’s campaign has also tried trolling tactics, launching a “Fetterman basement tracker” that kept count of how many days the Democrat had been off the campaign trail and designing memes to mock him for receiving his parents' financial support well into adulthood.
However, Lamberton said Fetterman has been the “first mover” in the snark battle, and by responding in kind, Oz risks looking like he’s playing catch-up. Fetterman is also able to tap into Pennsylvanians’ culture and references in a way that his opponent has struggled to do, she said.
“The crudité is a perfect example of the lack of a shared culture,” she said. “As Fetterman pointed out, it's a veggie tray in Pennsylvania.”
Fetterman's spokesman, Joe Calvello, said the Democratic candidate has always had a "brand and personality that shines through on Twitter" and is putting it to good use during the race. The campaign understands not everyone is active on social media, he said, but in a contest this competitive, they want to reach every voter they can.
"We cannot be leaving any stone unturned in an election like this," he said.
An Oz campaign spokeswoman said Fetterman is doing childish trolling while her candidate is busy traveling the commonwealth to meet with Pennsylvanians.
"John Fetterman has been hiding in his home, refusing to speak with voters, and relying on pathetic memes and internet jokes instead of learning about the issues affecting Pennsylvanians' lives," said Rachel Tripp, Oz's senior communications adviser.
"Pennsylvanians want a leader who will show up, and that's exactly what Dr. Oz has done. Dr. Oz made his career and life in Pennsylvania and is ready to fight for issues that real Pennsylvanians care about, something Fetterman could never understand."
In response, Calvello noted that Fetterman earlier this month held his comeback rally in Erie, speaking at a convention center packed with "more Pennsylvanians than Oz has spoken to since he moved here from New Jersey."
In a Newsmax appearance last week, Oz said he messed up the grocery store name in his TikTok video because he’d been exhausted from “campaigning 18 hours a day.”
“Listen, I’ve gotten my kids’ names wrong as well,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a measure of someone's ability to lead the commonwealth.”
Fetterman’s campaign, on the other hand, contends that the crudité clip resonated because it hit on something — namely, that Oz is out-of-touch and out-of-state.
"It comes down to authenticity. John isn't going to be walking into Aldi or Giant Eagle, where he shops everyday, and talk about crudité," Calvello said.
The day after the viral video, the Democrat released a five-point plan to address inflation by increasing U.S. manufacturing, combatting price gouging, cutting taxes for working families, lowering health care costs and banning members of Congress from trading stocks.
They said the plan was a serious attempt to take on inflation and stood in contrast with the Oz video, which they say demonstrated the Republican’s disconnect from the economic hardships that everyday families can experience.
But the video didn’t go viral just because Oz is wealthy and doesn’t seem familiar with grocery shopping, Lamberton said. A joke’s punch comes from the element of surprise, she continued, and people already knew or suspected those things about him.
In this case, she says, the surprise was that Oz appeared to think he was exhibiting perfectly normal behavior. That he was being relatable, even.
“It provided insight into the way that he thinks people see him and the way that he thinks people see inflation and the way he thinks people see grocery stores,” she said.
While much of last week’s internet pile-on was from people seizing the opportunity to dunk on Oz, there were some earnest posts in the mix.
“After my mom’s double shift as a home health aide, she’d come home and get right to work whipping up some crudité,” state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, tweeted.
United Farm Workers posted a lengthy tweet thread explaining where Oz’s crudité ingredients actually come from, with videos showing how workers harvest carrots, broccoli and tomatoes. And a union representing food workers used the moment to call attention to store employees, with a tweet featuring photos of supermarket staff.
“Our grocery members are always ready to help," the union wrote, "with all of your c̵r̵e̵w̵d̵i̵t̵e̵ c̵r̵o̵o̵d̵i̵t̵t̵a̵y̵ c̵r̵u̵d̵i̵t̵è̵ vegetable needs."