When former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke finally announced his presidential campaign Thursday morning, an experienced crew of digital strategists was ready to make the most of the moment, through social media engagement and small-dollar fundraising.
It wasn’t their first rodeo. Many of O’Rourke’s key staffers — particularly from his online team — spent the 2016 campaign working for another crowd-pleasing populist: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
At least eight former Sanderistas have decamped to O’Rourke’s campaign, according to online records. Several held top jobs on the Vermonter’s 2016 campaign before joining up with the Texan’s 2018 U.S. Senate race and 2020 presidential run.
“I have friends in both campaigns whose skills and talents I admire, but Bernie’s loss is Beto’s gain,” said Michael Briggs, who served as Sanders’ top spokesman in 2016 and who has not joined a 2020 campaign.
Joining them on the Texan’s presidential campaign are half a dozen Sanders alums who now run and work for Middle Seat, a digital strategy and fundraising firm that has advised such progressive standouts as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed.
To be sure, not all of the Sanders’ digital team has departed. The senator has signed on Aisle 518 Strategies — led by 2016 alums Tim Tagaris and Robin Curran — to lead his digital fundraising efforts. They’ve had remarkable success thus far, raising $10 million for Sanders in his first week in the race.
The Sanders campaign did not respond to a request for comment.