Voters wait for hours in Elizabeth Warren's 'selfie' line. Is her strategy working?

Prospective voters come for the photos. Often, they stay because Warren does.

August 30, 2019, 11:08 AM

Only a handful of people might have been jealous of 16-year-old Nathan Wall’s spot at the back of 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren’s “selfie line” in Seattle on Sunday: the roughly 10 people waiting in line behind him, watching the thousands of fans who had secured sports ahead of them.

But Wall, born and raised in Seattle, bounced from his left foot to his right with the excitement of someone about to meet a potential next president.

“I think it's worth the wait,” he said.

Wall wasn’t just in any Warren "selfie line" on Sunday. The Massachusetts senator had just wrapped up her largest campaign event ever, attended by about 15,000 people, her team estimates, impressing observers again with her growing crowd sizes and their enthusiasm.

From start to finish, the "selfie line" took four hours.

A few days earlier at her second-largest event -- a 12,000-person rally in St. Paul, Minnesota -- the "selfie line," misnamed because Warren staffers take the photos, took two hours and 20 minutes. A few days before that, a line after Warren's town hall in Los Angeles took three hours.

But Wall, a member of his high school debate team and a hyper-involved young Democrat, said he was willing to wait -- willing despite actually ranking Sen. Bernie Sanders above Warren "at this point in the race" and being too young to legally vote in 2020, not to mention the beautiful weather.

He wanted to thank Warren for being a political inspiration, he said, but he was on a mission as well.

“And I think we should push even the people we like the most on issues that are important to us,” he said.

Wall is one of tens of thousands of voters who have turned out for rallies and waited hours on end for six seconds or so with Warren.

And over the past week, as Warren saw three of her biggest crowds yet, it was the three or four-hour photo lines as much as it was the crowd sizes that sparked conversations about enthusiasm around her rising campaign. Despite a rough start in January, she has steadily risen over the summer months to consistently hold one of the top three spots in the polls.

PHOTO: A crowd watches Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a presidential campaign rally at the International Fountain in Seattle, Aug. 25, 2019.
A crowd watches Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a presidential campaign rally at the International Fountain in Seattle, Aug. 25, 2019.
Karen Ducey/Zuma Press

While other candidates frequently take photos with voters — with Sanders recently making a point to take “selfies with anyone who wants them” at events where his schedule allows — Warren, without fail, has stayed until the end of the photo line after each of her events. As one senior campaign official noted, the process demands its own set of logistics: venues have to be booked out longer to account for the lines, certain staffers are known to be able to skillfully move the line along faster than others and there are concerns about how to best avoid germs given they touch so many strangers' cell phones.

Asked whether increasing crowd sizes might force changes to the "selfie line" strategy, a spokesperson for the Warren campaign declined to comment.

For now, the candidate is staying committed to the time-consuming process, which she's told her staff and reporters that she finds "energizing."

Usually, an organizing director for her campaign comes on stage to explain the logistics and warn the crowd that Warren needs to change into running shoes first so she can both make the line move faster and be more comfortable.

In Seattle, Washington State Sen. Joe Nguyen, who had introduced Warren to the crowd, joined her on stage after her speech to explain the game plan.

“The senator will be doing — and there's a lot, there's a lot of people here — but you all can get selfies,” he told the crowd. Warren, standing next to him, said something to him away from the microphone.

Nguyen looked back at the crowd.

“She's gonna do it,” Nguyen then clarified. Warren took the mic.

“Joe is saying is we’ve got a plan for the selfies,” she said, utilizing her trademark phrase. “So, stick with it."

The campaign often touts the hours dedicated to the photo line as proof of what Warren can do with the time other candidates spend at closed-door fundraisers, which her campaign has sworn off.

“But it’s about more than pictures, it’s also a chance for people to get in a question or talk about the issues that matter to them. We’re building a grassroots movement, person to person, face to face,” said Saloni Sharma, a spokesperson for the Warren campaign.

Like Wall, some other voters in line listed Warren as one of their favorites but said they were curious about others, too, often listing Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris of California and former Vice President Joe Biden. A few mentioned Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur who has been steadily gaining steam and will take the debate stage in September over some sitting senators and governors.

Nevertheless, Wall spent all of Sunday afternoon with thousands of other voters who, whether or not she was their top choice, waited for their time with Warren.

Wall, who described most Democrats as “really, really afraid to question Israel,” said he asked Warren if she planned to be as tough on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neyanyahu “in pressuring him to treat Palestinians like human beings” as she is day-to-day in her criticism of President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Her exact words, she said: 'Oh, god, yes.’ So, I was glad to get that answer from her,” Wall said afterward. “And it really was just awesome getting to meet her.”

PHOTO: Nathan Wall, 16, takes a photo with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts after waiting in the "selfie" line for almost three hours in Seattle after her largest 2020 campaign event to date on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019.
Nathan Wall, 16, takes a photo with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts after waiting in the "selfie" line for almost three hours in Seattle after her largest 2020 campaign event to date on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019.
Courtesy Nathan Wall

Asked about her conversation with Wall, Warren’s campaign pointed ABC News to her comments on pushing Israel's current government toward the two-state solution at an event hosted by the Working Families Party in August.

"I'm hoping that me bringing that issue up and letting her know that it's important to me, along with other people bringing it up and letting her known that it's important to them, I think it will eventually push her to the right position. But I'm waiting to see, and I will hold her accountable if she doesn't," Wall said.

As he waited, a campaign volunteer on a microphone announced Warren had just hit her 50,000th photo of the campaign.

For Wall, that showed a level of transparency.

“She's not afraid to get out there and defend what she believes," he said, "and I think her supporters feel like they have a voice.”

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