CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Last May, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted a photograph of a dog surrounded by the chewed-up detritus of what appeared to be some unfortunate household item. It was Bailey, her family’s adolescent golden retriever.
“Bailey was a bad boy this morning,” she wrote. “But at least he’s sorry.”
Bailey often appears in his owner’s social media accounts. So do Truman and Buddy, the mixed-breed dogs who belong to Pete Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten — although as befitting media-savvy members of a millennial-run household, they also have their own, dog-centric Twitter feed.
Non-punctuated and mostly nonsensical, Truman and Buddy’s posts feature approximations of the sort of things Midwestern dogs might say, if they actually said anything. Topics include Christmas (“ther is a tree in the living room again”; irony (“GLAM,” next to a goofy selfie); and stoner-type observations about food and identity (“I AM A LOAF OF OFN BREAD”).
W.C. Fields famously advised actors never to work with animals, lest they be upstaged or unpleasantly surprised by unscripted moments.
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, seemed to illustrate the wisdom of this advice on the campaign trail in Vermont this week. Introduced to a dog, he grabbed its nose and shook hello — not a traditional greeting, but a maneuver that seemed quintessentially Bloomberg-esque.
But for most politicians, dogs are no-downside campaign enhancers: friendly foils, emollient front-animals, reliable comic relief providers, and slobbery good will ambassadors. They can make even the chilliest candidate seem warmer.
According to the most recent survey of pet owners by the American Pet Products Association, a trade group, some 63.4 million American households have dogs, a state of affairs that creates a natural constituency of citizens who might be disposed toward dog-owning candidates. And dogs make great surrogates, in part because they never say anything, let alone the wrong thing.
Dogs also make excellent presidential props, of course. President Richard Nixon weathered a financial-improprieties scandal during his vice-presidential run in 1952 before becoming president by, in part, speaking eloquently (for him) about Checkers, the dog his family had accepted as a gift. President Herbert Hoover, burdened with a stuffy, stilted image, successfully humanized himself by releasing a photograph in which he communed in a manly yet affectionate manner with his German shepherd, King Tut.
And fans of President Barack Obama loved it when his family brought Bo and then Sunny, Portuguese water dogs, into the White House, even after Sunny knocked down a 2-year-old visitor.
(The exception to all this, as is so often the case, is President Donald Trump, who regularly compares his enemies to dogs in terms unflattering to the dogs, and is the only president in 100 years not to have installed a First Dog in the White House. But the normal rules of politics generally don’t apply to him. He doesn’t even have a cat.)
Many of the Democratic candidates for president have dogs, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who has two: Champ and Major, both German shepherds. The two make occasional social media appearances, most notably this past Christmas, when Biden tweeted out holiday greetings that showed the dogs in a “Home Alone”-style video rooting under the tree, munching on Christmas cookies and cavorting with what looked like a squeaky stuffed Santa toy.
Meanwhile, Warren’s and Buttigieg’s dogs are highly visible features of their campaigns, in notably different ways.
Bailey has been a rambunctious part of Warren’s bid for the Democratic nomination since he came into her family’s life, a gift of her husband, Bruce, in 2018. He travels in the car with the couple when they drive to New Hampshire for campaign events and has been standing in (sort of) for the senator in Iowa, as she is stuck in Washington at the president’s impeachment trial.
“He’s still a puppy, but he has that incredible love-the-people mentality,” the candidate’s son and sometime dogsitter, Alex Warren, said this month at the campaign’s field office in Cambridge. Alex Warren, 43, had brought Bailey to a meet-the-dog event for volunteers.
Introduced as “our future first dog,” Bailey proved a charismatic if unpredictable surrogate, whacking things with his tail, rolling around with his paws in the air, munching on hoodies and slobbering on the volunteers. “The selfie line with Bailey is a really acrobatic experience,” Alex Warren said.
Alex Warren, an I.T. consultant, took a disciplined approach to the interview, confining his answers to the subject of Bailey. But he did reveal that he and his wife have their own dog, Oberon, aka Obi Warren Kenobi, and that Obi and Bailey spent last Halloween together. Obi dressed as Batdog, and Bailey was festooned with two large pennies to depict Warren’s belief that wealth over $50 million should be subject to a 2% annual surcharge.
“That’s the scariest costume the wealthy will ever see,” a user named Zach tweeted in response.
Bailey is a popular figure in the wider canine community in Fresh Pond park in Cambridge. “A lot of us recognize Bailey before we see the senator,” said Jennifer Kay.Goodman, 53, who showed up at the campaign event with Pelé, her Boston terrier, and some homemade dog biscuits.
Dog ownership is a good quality in a candidate, she said. “If you can take care of a dog, and dogs like you, it says a lot about your character.”
But while Bailey is a flesh-and-blood participant in campaign events, the Buttigieg pets, Truman and Buddy, are mainly virtual ones, at least so far. They regularly appear in the social media feeds of the candidate and his husband. But their Twitter account (@firstdogsSB), is very popular, with 90,500 followers.
Fans follow the ups and downs of the dogs’ lives, learning of their hopes and passions, including those that have to do with peanut butter. In October, the subject was Buddy’s Halloween costume, a shiny green-and-yellow outfit, the meaning of which was unclear at first.
“OMG GOT MY HALOSWEEN COSTUM,” the dog (or someone in the voice of the dog) wrote. “DO YOU WANT TO SEEZ IT OMG I AM so EXCITE.”
But what was it, exactly? The caption on the photo said it: “ACVOCADO.”
The Buttigieg dogs have taken a bold approach to the classic Twitter conundrum: Do you say some normal thing while abiding by conventional rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation, or are we pioneering a whole new freestyling vernacular in which there seems to be no filter between our random fleeting thoughts and our thrilled belief that other people want to hear them?
Don’t ask the Buttigieg campaign. “Buddy and Truman have full creative control over their Twitter account,” Tess Whittlesey, deputy national press secretary, said via email.
As for the dogs’ part in the campaign: “The dogs primarily serve in the important role of South Bend representatives for the campaign while Pete and Chasten are on the road,” she said. “They have quite the following in South Bend as well, and always enjoy running into friends and neighbors when they are walking around the city. They haven’t hit the campaign trail quite yet, but hope to soon.”
Interestingly enough, Bailey does not have his own social media account. An independent fan account (@FirstDogBailey) is operated by 28-year-old Robert Abare, who works for a think tank in Washington.
In contrast to the Buttigieg dogs’ Twitter account, which is managed by humans “as if they’re actually dogs who can’t speak English and don’t understand what Twitter is,” Abare said, “I took an approach that Warren is an intellectual who is running this aggressive campaign focused on issues like corruption.”
In Abare’s rendering, Bailey reflects his owner’s politics.
“Buddy and Truman never make political statements, but I try to make Bailey into this progressive-warrior-like golden retriever,” he said. “I make little jokes that blend dog humor with economic progressive activism.”
“Hi! I’m Bailey Warren,” the account’s pinned tweet says. “I like long walks, belly rubs, and financial regulations that hold billionaires and corporations accountable.”
Recent posts have touched on such topics as Warren’s attitude toward the rich (“Mom put billionaire tears in my water bowl”).
The account currently has 26,700 followers.
“People respond to the tweets as if I’m actually a dog,” Abare said. “Sometimes I wonder if people are crazy.”