In Politics, what is a Campaign Surrogate?

Brendan McGuigan

A campaign surrogate is a term used to describe a person who acts on the behalf of a candidate running for some sort of political office. The campaign surrogate often appears at public events that the candidate cannot make it to, or may simply appear to bolster the image of the candidate in a certain demographic.

Interest surrogates during political campaigns are common in the African-American community.
Interest surrogates during political campaigns are common in the African-American community.

Some of the most consistent campaign surrogates one sees are the spouses of political candidates. Spouses are able to speak fairly authoritatively on the positions of their partners, and have the name recognition to draw in large crowds. During the political season, they are often sent off to districts which may not be large enough to warrant the actual candidate visiting, but which are nonetheless important. They may also be used to cover important events if there are two happening at the same time, making it impossible for the candidate to attend both.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton acted as a campaign surrogate for his wife, Hillary, during her presidential campaign.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton acted as a campaign surrogate for his wife, Hillary, during her presidential campaign.

Perhaps the most visible campaign surrogate in recent times has been a spouse. Former President Bill Clinton has traveled extensively to campaign for his wife Hillary during the 2007-2008 Democratic primary season. In addition to having the name recognition, Bill Clinton is in a unique position for a spousal campaign surrogate, having actually served in the office his wife is running for. This allows him to reference his own time in office, stating that he believes his wife would be the best person to fill that role, drawing on positive feelings others may have had for him. At the same time, using such a politicized figure as a campaign surrogate runs the risk of alienating those who have negative associations with him.

Another major type of campaign surrogate is a person who is still serving in political office. A candidate who is trying to win a contested battle may call in endorsements from politicians who have favorable numbers among a target demographic, in order to profit from their positive profile. For example, in a Senate race within a state, the Democratic governor may endorse the Democratic candidate for the Senate. The governor can then show up at rallies, give speeches, and otherwise vocally support the candidate. If the governor has positive ratings in the state, this can help influence undecided voters. Governors make especially effective campaign surrogates because they often appeal to a broad base of voters, transcending party and having the support of independents and centrists.

The President of the United States may also act as a campaign surrogate in particularly important elections for his or her party. Tough to win Congressional districts often profit most from the intervention of the President, particularly if the President has a high approval rating. This can be an incredible boon for the party, as under the right circumstances the President can influence a number of House races in a given election cycle.

Still another type of campaign surrogate is the interest surrogate. These surrogates are often high-profile leaders of a minority or large voting bloc. Candidates can use these campaign surrogates to assuage voter fears that they might not look out for that particular demographic. The most common type of campaign surrogate in this type is a leader of the African-American community. White candidates use these campaign surrogates to assure African-American voters that they will look out for their interests. In recent years Hispanic campaign surrogates have become more and more important as well.

A campaign surrogate may draw in large crowds.
A campaign surrogate may draw in large crowds.

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Discussion Comments


@heavanet- That is a very good point. I think that when politicians spread their messages via surrogates, they also reach out to a variety of groups and ages, because this method shows that their campaigns and issues are diverse.


I think that sometimes campaign surrogates are more persuasive than the actual candidates. This is especially true when the politicians are men and the surrogates are women. They are often able to relate better to female voters, and touch on issues that are important to wives and mothers.

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