KEENE, N.H. — For her supporters, the most electrifying part of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent town hall was not her entrance onto the stage — arms waving, music blasting — nor her speech, peppered with jokes and plans, nor the lottery to ask her questions. Instead, the climax of the event was a line.
A very, very long line.
“I’ll stay as long as you want, and I’ll do selfies,” Warren said at the beginning of the rally, as the crowd of 900 students and others at Keene State College whooped. “That is the heart of democracy, right?” she added, chuckling.
And in 2019, perhaps it is. Though almost all the presidential candidates take photos with potential voters, Warren has become famous for her “selfie” lines, which can last hours and involve hundreds or even thousands of people. She has said that if she wins the nomination, she will continue to do them. But right now, with Warren climbing in the Democratic primary polls, these photo lines have a kind of intimate, now-or-never feeling to them, like meeting Taylor Swift when she was still strumming her guitar at a bar in Nashville.
As the sun set on the lawn in front of the student center, four freshmen discussed what they planned to do with the photo they would soon have.
“Cherish it,” said Lauren Simmons. “Post it.”
“We’re making it into a tapestry and putting it in the dorm,” said Katherine Olson.
The young women had just turned 18, and they viewed Warren’s strategy as politically savvy, a way of reaching new voters like them.
Warren’s campaign sees the photos as a form of grass-roots canvassing, offering individuals a chance to talk to their candidate face-to-face. They also, of course, offer Warren the opportunity to appear in potential voters’ Snapchat stories and Instagram feeds without paying a cent. The ritual showcases the 70-year-old candidate’s stamina, too: She really will stay until the last person who wants one gets a photo. Recently, after a rally of 20,000 people in Manhattan, Warren snapped selfies for four hours.
Far from the existential despair and rage that one usually encounters among people who are waiting in a very long line, the people sticking around to meet Warren at Keene State were eager, rule-abiding, optimistic — matching almost perfectly the tone of the event. Occasionally, shouts of spontaneous joy would erupt.
Theo Avent, 20, waited with his girlfriend, Jasmine Eastman, 18, wearing matching red-and-black-checkered flannel shirts. Avent was already a devoted Warren supporter but had never seen her in real life. He had seen Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders on campus, and he’d even gotten a picture with Sanders, but he had notably not gotten one with Biden, who tends to prefer the old-school rope line, where supporters greet a candidate from a slight remove.
“I got a picture of Joe Biden,” Avent said, holding up his phone to show a distant photo of the former vice president, partially blocked by the crowds surrounding him.
“Joe Biden didn’t stay very long. He came in, he took a picture with the first 10 people that were there, and then left. I’m like, c’mon!” Avent said. In contrast, he said, Warren is “willing to wait.”
That’s partly because the Warren campaign has made the rapid selfie into a science.
“Is your phone open and ready?” a campaign staffer shouted at the front of a line, like a TSA worker might if the Transportation Security Administration were staffed by cheerful millennials in matching T-shirts.
Rachel Barnard, 21, was practically breathless when she finally reached the front.
One staffer held Barnard’s backpack for her; another took her iPhone. Then Barnard mounted the steps to the stage, greeted Warren, handed her a typed letter from her older sister, posed with the candidate, clasped hands with her, and descended the steps on the other side.
Within seconds, she was holding her backpack and her phone again, reminiscing about the experience.
“She’s so warm,” Barnard said. “I told her that I had a letter from my sister, and she took my hands and she said, ‘Give her my best.’ ” Barnard, who was already a Warren fan, said she had no desire to get photos with any other candidate at this point.
“I just want to vote for Warren,” she said.
Though many students filled the line, those who wanted selfies did not all come of age with Instagram. Judy McGorray, 82, rode a red wheelchair scooter across the grass, eager to meet Warren and get a photo to prove it. She couldn’t mount the steps, so instead Warren bounded down and knelt in the grass next to McGorray, hugging her as a staffer snapped photos.
“I’m going to make a copy for my brothers and sisters,” McGorray said.
For volunteers who have spent weeks making phone calls or registering new voters, the photos can serve as a memento of the hard work. Hillary Ballantine, 28, had waited with Alycia Barron, 23, for about an hour, but as volunteers, they were used to it. Ballantine was getting her fourth selfie with Warren of the season; Barron was getting her third. They were both decked out in Warren campaign T-shirts, with Barron sporting sunglasses hand-decorated with beads spelling out a Warren campaign motto: “Dream Big, Fight Hard.”
After Ballantine and Barron got their photos, the line soon came to an end, and the attendees scattered to post their photos on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat.
“Living in New Hampshire during an election cycle has its perks,” one attendee captioned his selfie. “Here’s @elizabethwarren endorsing me for president of the United States,” wrote another. As the masses finessed their captions, Warren’s New Hampshire campaign staff jumped onstage to pose for a final photo.
Instead of “Cheese,” the staff gleefully shouted, “Big structural change!” and Warren grinned for the last camera of the night.