When Corey Stewart announced his intention to challenge Ed Gillespie for the Republican Governor of Virginia primary, the establishment GOP cringed.
He was considered a loudmouth, a sensational politician who was too controversial for political consultants navigating the anti-Trump hysteria fueling the left. He believed strongly in curbing illegal immigration and pushing a “drain the swamp” anti-establishment agenda much like the president. And his fiery defense of Confederate monuments proved he would not back down when challenged by political correctness.
His aggressive style horrified seasoned consultants, but for the tech leaders at Harris Media he was great for Facebook live.
“That was kind of our silver bullet,” political director Rory McShane of Harris said in an interview with Breitbart News.
Rather than honing a slick patriotic video designed to go viral or a 30 second ad, McShane and his team starting channeling Stewart’s energy to Facebook.
Wherever Stewart went in Virginia, his live content went with him from hour-long meetings at the Board of County Supervisors to trips to the gun show and speeches around the state. He would also go live to challenge Gillespie for dropping out of events and debates, taunting him with the nickname “Establishment Ed.”
Over 200 videos were published during the campaign, sometimes multiple live videos per day, racking up thousands of viewers who tuned in for Stewart’s conversations on camera.
“We were aggressive, disciplined and dogged. We livestreamed a lot, we were creative every day, and gradually energized our supporters to deliver the result they did,” McShane said.
The team generated a total of four million online video views across multiple platforms, according to McShane, including 94,000 views on election day.
Rather than turning off his supporters, Stewart’s dogged pursuit rallied a high energy group of supporters who would tune in.
“Our followers were excited man,” McShane said. “They were out there beating the drum for Corey Stewart on Election Day.”
Trump’s election changed digital politics, as his supporters responded to the authenticity of Trump crashing though political correctness, feeding his supporters with high energy rallies that streamed live on social media.
The strategy of trying to produce edgy viral videos through earned media is running flat and long gone are the days of patriotic flag waving campaign ads.
“We have to break out of this mold, and this idea that candidate should appear on camera in a 30 second scripted video, because people don’t respond to it anymore,” McShane said.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Harris Media worked with Republican candidate Rand Paul in a crowded field of candidates. McShane cited one moment in the latter part of campaign where he went on a live-stream that struck a chord.
“Is Rand Paul still running for president? I dunno, I wouldn’t be doing this dumbass live streaming if I weren’t,” Paul said sarcastically, answering a question after hours of appearing on live video.
The moment broke through, despite the competitive primary competition for media attention.
“Everybody knew that it wasn’t some scripted thing,” McShane said. “That’s what has people voluntarily trying to watch this stuff.”
Stewart’s willingness to protest municipalities who were tearing down confederate monuments is what really struck a chord with his followers.
The controversial issue brought thousands of viewers to Stewarts protest videos, after it was clear that he completely shunned political correctness. Voters responded to his willingness to explain his views, despite his political opponents trying to use his opinions to smear him.
“I’m not endorsing the Confederate flag folks, it’s not about the flag at all … it’s about political correctness … rampant uncontrolled political correctness that is shaming Virginians who are simply trying to honor their ancestry and their heritage.” Stewart said in a video as he was driving his car. “I’m not going to back down.”
He blasted “weak kneed, establishment politicians” who consistently caved to the attacks from the left.
“It is my mission to stomp out political correctness and destroy it, because it’s a bondage, it’s not something that belongs in a free society,” he said.
Stewart’s group of supporters astonished political observers, after he came within a percentage point of beating Gillespie in the primary — defying expectations that he would lose by double digits.
Although he lost the primary, Stewart retained his status as a Facebook Live star. On Sunday, thousands of Stewart’s tuned in as spoke at the Rally Against Political Political Violence at the White House, where a large group of Trump supporters gathered.
Stewart vowed to keep fighting for free speech:
The most important right that any of us have, that any free people is the right to freedom of expression, your freedom of speech, if that is shut down you are no longer a free people. And the left knows they couldn’t change the constitution so over the past 40-50 years they tried though embarrassment through coercion, through intimidation to shut down free speech. And we are here today to let the left know and let the media know that we will not tolerate it.
But Stewart wasn’t finished. Standing in front the cheering group of Trump supporters, he hinted that he was thinking of challenging Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018.
“I haven’t made a decision yet, but come in 2018, we’re going to send Tim Kaine to the curb, and we’re going to take back Virginia!” he said.