Pokémon Politics: In Bid for Votes, State Rep Wants to Catch ’Em All

The craze over the smartphone game “Pokémon Go” is coaxing Texans out of their homes and into the summer heat — and now at least one state lawmaker is looking to the game to bolster voter engagement efforts.

James Ratcliff, 39, plays "Pokémon Go" outside the Texas Capitol on Thursday. "We're trying to figure out if there are more people here playing than visiting the Capitol," he said. "We think there is."

The craze over the smartphone game “Pokémon Go” is coaxing Texans out of their homes and into the summer heat — and now at least one state lawmaker is looking to the game to bolster voter engagement efforts.

The popular game utilizes a technology known as augmented reality to superimpose images of fictional creatures, inspired by the Japanese video game and TV franchise, onto smartphone cameras. Players walk around, directed by their phones, to real landmarks and street corners, where the game tells them a Pokémon is lurking. There, they can “catch” it and add it to their collection, housed in the app.

The game has drawn praise for encouraging people to go outside and visit landmarks, like parks and historical sites, since it came out earlier this month. The landmarks at the Texas Capitol, for example, are home to many a Pokémon, and a crowd of players walking around with their phones out in front of them regularly traverses the grounds.

Lazaros Sanchez, 25, often ventures to the Capitol on his lunch break. “There’s Pokémon all over the place,” he observed late Thursday morning after catching a Pokémon called Eevee.

Now politicians are jumping on the trend. State Rep. Rodney Anderson, a Grand Prairie Republican up for re-election this fall, is organizing a canvass this Saturday themed to the game.

Volunteers will knock on doors around a neighborhood in Irving, like usual, but the campaign is also advertising the event as an opportunity for Pokémon Go players to catch the digital creatures around the local park.

A Facebook event addresses “all Pokémon Trainers and Grass Roots Activists!” and offers that block walking “will be a great chance to find new Pokémon and hatch those eggs!” And, it adds, there are prizes, at least virtual ones — the campaign will reward the volunteers who catch the strongest and the most creatures with “PokéCoins,” the game’s online currency. (It includes a disclaimer that non-Pokémon Go players are also welcome.)

Anderson isn’t the first to try the tactic. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was mocked when she made a maybe-lame joke about the game at a campaign stop earlier this month (“I don’t know who created Pokémon Go, but I’ve tried to figure out how we get them to have ‘Pokémon Go to the polls,’” she said, to virtual groans on Twitter). But since then, field staffers in swing states including Ohio and Colorado have turned to the game to register voters and recruit volunteers.

Donald Trump, too, parodied the game in an advertisement against Clinton dubbed “Crookéd Hillary No.”

Anderson called his event this weekend “blending technology and some entertainment to say, ‘Hey, let’s come on out and say hi to voters.’” He has not played the game himself, but his young adult children play. “They grew up on this when they were 8, 9, 10 years old, now somebody’s come up with a way to keep them engaged,” Anderson said.

Reception to his block walk has been good so far — Anderson declined to quote one response he heard directly “because they put an adjective in front of brilliant” — though he said he has “no idea” what kind of turnout to expect. A handful of people have RSVP’d to the Facebook event.

“It’s something that grabs attention — hey, this is different — and we’ll be happy with whatever turnout that we have,” Anderson said.

Craig Murphy, a Republican campaign consultant, adds that the hot Texas summer is a tough time to find volunteers — so the more ideas for recruitment, the better.

“Just when you think there’s no new way to get people out, this thing comes along,” he said.