In bid for young voters, Democrats offer social media influencers access to August convention

It’s part of a critical voter outreach plan in place since President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign and extended into the halls of the White House — as Biden combats Donald Trump and his army of online supporters.

SHARE In bid for young voters, Democrats offer social media influencers access to August convention
Chicago historian and personality Shermann "Dilla" Thomas

Shermann “Dilla” Thomas is among hundreds of social media influencers Democrats are courting to cover the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

At a Democratic National Convention media walkthrough of the United Center last month, local content creators and social media influencers were given a private tour of their convention working space: a skybox next to major networks like ABC and NBC.

The local influencers, most of whom do not post political commentary, were told, “If you are posting something critical of [President Joe] Biden or Democrats, you know, knock yourself out,” Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, a popular Chicago social media influencer, recalled.

“The only thing they really said at the United Center was kind of, ‘Give folks a chance to answer some of those questions,’” Thomas said. “‘Since you have the credentials essential to be at the DNC, instead of maybe posting your opinion about a thing, you know, fact-check your opinion,’ or give them an opportunity to kind of rebut what you have to say.”

Thomas is among hundreds of influencers the Biden campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic National Convention Committee are courting. And beginning Friday, influencers will be able to apply for media credentials for the first time in convention history.

It’s part of a critical voter outreach plan that’s been in place since President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign and has extended into the halls of the White House — as Biden combats former president Donald Trump and his army of social media influencers.

An estimated 32% of people between 18 and 29 got their news from TikTok last year, according to a Pew Research Center poll. And a poll conducted by the University of Chicago’s GenForward late last month found Biden has lost support from young Black and Latino voters compared to 2020.

Democrats are banking on a gambit. While they can’t control content, access and communication with influencers will help them reach tuned out voters in huge numbers, especially in key battleground states. It’s also a way to get ahead of critical content — and potentially debunk misinformation.

Thomas, who has 111,000 followers on TikTok and 84,000 followers on Instagram, proudly calls himself a Chicago urban historian and runs Chicago Mahogany Tours, which he said he started because he got “tired of people ragging on the city and not being fully aware of its history.”

He said he plans to use his convention credentials to post videos about Chicago history and also detail the ways in which organizers are spending money outside of downtown.

“Both Democrats and Republicans are courting minority votes. I can’t speak to that for Milwaukee. But how much money is the DNC spending with minorities and women and immigrant cultures here in Chicago for this big convention out here that they’re spending millions of dollars?” Thomas asked.

Despite the potential for negative posts, a convention spokesperson said there is respect for creators to produce their own content — just as there is a respect for the freedom of the press to cover the convention.

Samantha Lampkin, a journalist, media consultant and social media influencer who posts on Instagram, Facebook and X, also plans to apply for a credential. Lampkin focuses on lifestyle posts on social media but also hosts a monthly political show on CAN-TV called “Chicago Politics.”

“My whole goal is to humanize what it is to be part of the DNC from my lens to the average Chicago resident who may just go to work every day or [is] clicking and moving their thumbs through social media,” Lampkin said. “I want to know, why is this such a big deal? Why do we fight for it and that type of thing, like why people need to care.”

Since 2020, the White House has held briefings and roundtables with TikTok and social media influencers. The president has also conducted interviews with TikTok creators, including Daniel Mac, and the White House last year hosted its first Christmas party for influencers.

The Biden campaign recently invited 20 content creators to a fundraiser featuring Biden and former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton that had a combined following of 85 million. They also recently invited a TikTok creator to tour campaign headquarters.

The campaign said it began working with influencers late last year, in an earlier and larger effort than 2020, and it has now partnered with more than 550 creators. The campaign plans to spend millions on those efforts. The goal is to build relationships and create a coalition of outside voices who will have an impact closer to the election.

Influencers will be granted credentials by the convention campaign committee and will have the same access and information that traditional media receives, which will include access to surrogates and VIPs.

In Chicago, the convention campaign committee has hired full-time staffers, specifically assigned to influencer engagement. A convention spokesperson said a team will lead influencer engagement and will work closely with the Biden campaign and the campaign committee’s digital partnership teams. Volunteers will help with on-site support during the convention.

A spokesperson did not disclose how many credentials will be granted to influencers.

More 2024 Democratic National Convention coverage
Some Democrats issued statements of strong support for the vice president as the new candidate and others stayed mum, for now — with just weeks to go before the Democratic National Convention kicks off in Chicago on Aug. 19.
The decision comes after escalating pressure from Biden’s Democratic allies to step aside following the June 27 debate, in which the 81-year-old president trailed off, often gave nonsensical answers and failed to call out Donald Trump’s many falsehoods.
It wasn’t just one bad night but what that bad night represented.
While Pritzker has emphatically expressed his support of Biden, he’s also not quashed the narrative that he has White House ambitions.
The fundraiser will be at the home of a family friend on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The campaign has at least 10 other fundraising events over the last 10 days of July.
Six more Democratic members of Congress called on Biden to drop out, making the total now 28.
By Thursday evening, the largest protest of the convention saw about a thousand people marching through downtown streets. Chicago is expecting a bigger presence.
Vance went heavy on mentions of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio — and his humble Appalachian roots as documented in ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ — on the third night of the Republican National Convention.
The Illinois Republican had a lot going on at the convention because he wears a lot of hats. He’s a vice chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee — a House GOP political organization — and a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Intelligence Committee.
One of the city’s most visible encampments was cleared Wednesday, weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Most of the remaining residents were moved to a city shelter.
Residents of a Magnificent Mile shelter are evicted to make room for occupants of a tent encampment that’s being cleared ahead of the Democratic National Convention.
‘Maybe America will come to some awaking that nobody is safe while we allow assault weapons and while we continue to have no common-sense gun laws in this country,’ the Rev. Michael Pfleger told the Sun-Times.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Friday and accuses the city of suppressing speech criticizing the government during the high-profile event.
Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) called out what he sees as a double standard in clearing the site in time for the DNC: “I didn’t think we would go from ‘Bring Chicago Home’ to ‘Hide Chicago’s Homeless,’ but here we are.”
“We have some very good potential candidates out there that ... would excite, not only the Democratic Party, but independents who make the difference in these elections,” the former U.S. Commerce secretary said.
Most Illinois delegates — whether elected or appointed — continue to back the nominations of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for a second term.
A former longtime Chicago reporter looks back at narratives that shaped the candidacies of Richard M. Daley, Barack Obama, Rod Blagojevich and Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden’s recent interview answers are consistent with everything else we’ve seen from him since the catastrophic debate — denial, selfishness and appalling judgment.
While Joe Biden doesn’t appear to be stepping away from his candidacy, the best-known political advisers for former Democratic presidents are saying he should.
Chicagoan Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, and a major Democratic donor and fundraiser, also said it was time for Democrats to consider alternatives to Biden.
Federal officials haven’t asked that the “tent city” next to the Dan Ryan Expressway be cleared, but a top mayoral aide says she doesn’t want to wait and then scramble.
Canceling time off kills police morale at a critical time before the Democratic National Convention, John Catanzara said. But the police department said the cancellations are only made to ensure sufficient staffing, and officers are given advance notice.
North Central Service line trains will run hourly over 10 days overlapping with the DNC between the O’Hare Transfer station and Chicago Union Station.
The convention will mean traffic delays and delivery disruptions for patients and health care workers — and hospital leaders are preparing for the worst if catastrophe strikes.
“Donald Trump is a dire threat to everything we hold dear,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said on the X social media platform. “Joe Biden is the president and our Democratic nominee, and we all need to do everything we can to defeat Donald Trump this November.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday said she would not become a candidate if President Joe Biden opts out. But Pritzker, who has been on shortlists as a potential replacement, wouldn’t make the same vow.
March organizers were denied a route mostly on Washington Boulevard. The city pitched a route on smaller streets near the United Center.
Whitmer will be the keynote speaker at the Illinois Democratic Party’s annual top fundraising event in September in Chicago, the Sun-Times has learned.
Two people who police say chained themselves to a fence around the race course on Sunday were arrested on suspicion of criminal trespass.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi told the Sun-Times, ‘I look forward to talking to Democratic leaders and my colleagues upon my return to Washington this week so we can chart the course forward to defeat Donald Trump in November.’

The Latest
Just before 2 a.m., the man, 42, was sitting in a parked vehicle in the 9800 block of South Ellis Avenue when he was shot in the head, Chicago police said.
Too often, insurers deny coverage for genetic tests that have been established as a standard of modern health care and can have a significant impact on people’s lives.
Her boyfriend’s family watched him pop the question, and woman’s aunt is hurt that she wasn’t invited too.
The band is now making money on the road, a turn that vocalist Katie Gavin calls ‘a game-changer.’