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Clinton's Already Won the Race for Best Surrogates

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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She may not need another advantage, but Hillary Clinton has one in the final 12 weeks of the presidential race: surrogates. These are prominent backers who can drum up support, enthusiasm and money.

The Democratic nominee's leading surrogates include two U.S. presidents, a vice president, a popular first lady and two favorites of the young voters she has struggled to attract.

QuickTake How the U.S. Elects Its Presidents

By contrast, the most prominent Republicans either don't support Donald Trump or are not making public appearances on his behalf.

Surrogates don't win or lose elections, but Trump's lack of effective ones puts him at a disadvantage. "Significant political celebrities can draw crowds, drive message and provide added credibility with both the base and swing audience," says Stephanie Cutter, the deputy manager of President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign.

Similarly, Eric Fehrnstrom, a top adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in that campaign, says that surrogates "can be hugely helpful because they amplify the usual voices coming from the campaign" and "add credibility."

This year, Republicans "are suffering from a major surrogates deficit," he notes, both because leading party figures have been "scared away by Trump's erratic behavior" and his campaign has done a poor job recruiting them.

Former President George W. Bush and his brother, Jeb, aren't supporting Trump. Nor are Romney and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The same goes for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who might have helped with resistant right-wingers. House Speaker Paul Ryan is focusing on re-electing his members and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio are devoting their time to their own races.

That leaves second-tier surrogates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, unpopular his own state and still embroiled in a potential scandal; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the object of late-night-comedian jokes; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who hasn't been elected to anything in 20 years and is almost as rhetorically reckless as Trump; and Senator Jeff Sessions, who is obscure outside of his home state of Alabama.

Hillary Clinton starts with her husband, Bill, the former president, who is both effective and erratic on the stump. He gave Clinton campaign aides heartburn last week when he took a swipe at FBI director James Comey, who has criticized Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. However, he's far more compelling than controversial.

Vice President Joe Biden, also famous for verbal gaffes, is nevertheless a beloved figure in the party and popular with blue-collar voters. He campaigned forcefully with the nominee in his original hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Monday.

Bernie Sanders, whom Clinton defeated for the nomination, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, the scourge of Wall Street, can help make the case for Clinton to young voters and the disaffected left. 

Michelle Obama, whose Democratic convention speech dazzled Republicans and Democrats alike, is expected to make campaign appearances this autumn. Women and young people "who may not be fully persuaded Hillary supporters" will come out to hear the first lady, Cutter said. "After hearing Michelle's message on Hillary, they are more likely to support her."

Then there's the super surrogate, Obama, whose job-approval ratings have climbed above 50 percent. He's an asset in most swing states and districts and will play a major role in drumming up get-out-the-vote efforts in minority communities.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net