Presidential candidates cannot be everywhere at once, so they have an arsenal of surrogates, people who speak on their behalf and hammer home the campaigns’ message points. For the most part, they fall into two camps, political surrogates and celebrity surrogates. WFAE’s Tanner Latham joins host Mark Rumsey in the studio to talk about the role of surrogates in the campaign.
MR: Tanner, give us a quick rundown of the people who’ve been hitting us up for interviews.
TL: We’ve had several members of Congress and other politicians from different states wanting to stop by for quick interviews on Radio Row at Time Warner Arena. We talked to the governor of Vermont, for example. Then there are the different interest groups that support things like the new health care law. It runs the gamut.
I’ve actually spoken to some celebrities myself, actors Ashley Judd and Kal Penn who were speaking on behalf of the president.
I also saw Hill Harper, who is an actor starring in the show CSI: NY. If you’re a fan, he’s the guy who plays Dr. Sheldon Hawkes. He and President Obama were buddies together while they were both at Harvard Law, and he’s worked with the campaign since 2008.
I met him while he was walking a red carpet into a VIP party down at Amos’ South End. A minute into our interview, Harper immediately went into one of the campaign’s message points.
HARPER: Something that doesn’t come up at all is we’ll talk about Supreme Court appointments. It’s quite possible that there will be two seats coming up on the Supreme Court where it’s a 7-2 or a court that’s the other way? If it’s a 7-2 court for the next 30-40 years, well past President Obama’s time in office. It’ll be affecting policy for those of us who are of a certain age.
MR: So, are you able to ask questions, or do they just seem to be reciting something from a script?
TL: Yeah, they’ll answer the question. Not too robotic. But as you know, Mark, oftentimes, they’ll answer your question… then find a fast and creative way to circle back around to that talking point they’re trying to hit home.
The thing about surrogates is that there’s always a demand for them. Obviously by the candidate, because he or she can’t be everywhere at once. But also by the media beast. The countless talk shows have so much time to fill, so they’ll bring them in.
I talked to Darrell West, who is the Vice President of Governance Studies for the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank in Washington D.C. And he spoke to that point.
WEST: The news media have an insatiable demand to have people appear on interview shows, and so you may need a dozen or more people at any point in time to cover the television outlets, the newspapers, and the major radio stations.
MR: So, talking more about the use of celebrities…they are good for spreading the message, but they are also key for fundraising, right?
TL: Ah, yes. I talked to Perez Hilton this week about that. He’s built his whole career as a celebrity gossip blogger and has gained his own form of celebrity. And so I asked him about the Hollywood connection to campaigns.
PEREZ: With celebrity oftentimes comes money. They can help fundraise. Barbra Streisand can throw a benefit concert and raise $100 million dollars for Barack Obama. So while you may not want to publicly align yourself with celebrities and court them too much, privately you want to use them, so they can get you money.
MR: So, it sounds like Hilton alluded to the risk that candidates have that comes with so many people speaking for them.
TL: Yes. Sometimes it can be a fine line for a politician to walk. Candidates want to parlay the fame of those celebrities in their favor, but celebrities, and even political surrogates, are real people, and in the moment , they can go rogue. Go off-script. Here’s Darrell West again.
WEST: When a celebrity goes off message, it can create problems for a campaign, because there can be days of news coverage of that celebrity misstatement. And every story that the media runs on a Clint Eastwood or someone else who has said something controversial, that’s one less story about the candidate’s speech itself.
MR: Damage control can take up so much time and energy. Tanner, thanks for joining us.