Campaign surrogates: asset or liability?

One of Donald Trump’s daughters-in-law was in Iowa today and a member of the Kennedy clan was here to campaign for Hillary Clinton. Campaign veterans say having a “surrogate” stand-in to campaign for the candidate can be a tricky.

David Kochel of Des Moines was a key insider on campaigns for Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. He says unless the campaign surrogate “has the same last name as the presidential candidate,” it’s difficult to draw much of a crowd or the desired media attention.

“In general, it can eat up a lot of staff resources and time with marginal benefit,” he says.

Good surrogates “underscore” the campaign’s core message to voters, according to Kochel.

“It is a motivation for supporters who are doing a lot of the work and the volunteering,” Kochel says. “It’s also a way to recruit volunteers and bring them in the door, but the message is the main thing.”

John Norris of Des Moines was a key insider on campaigns for Democratic presidential candidates Jesse Jackson and John Kerry. Norris says there’s a fine line between asset and liability when it comes to campaign surrogates.

“First of all, you want surrogates who are low maintainence, surrogates who can attract people for whatever the purpose is — for message, for fundraising,” Norris says,”and in Iowa there’s probably a higher threshold than in other states because Iowans are so used to having presidential candidates here.”

Kochel agrees.

“It’s always been tougher in Iowa to draw people who aren’t he candidates because we see so much of the candidates throughout the caucus process,” Kochel says.

Norris points out the presidential campaigns in Iowa are focused on early voting right now, since Iowans can start casting ballots next week.

“If the surrogate event is about getting the vote out and they’re an attractice surrogate, they can be helpful,” Norris says. “But if you spend a whole lot of time for a surrogate who doesn’t have much draw or electoral value, then you are probably directing your resources in a non-productive way.”

Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Ted Kennedy, hosted a roundtable discussion in Des Moines this morning to call attention to Clinton’s ideas for addressing gaps in the mental health care system. At nearly the same time, there was a “Women for Trump” event featuring Trump’s daughter-in-law and a long-time aide to three of Trump’s adult children.

Lynne Patton is also an executive for Eric Trump’s charity. During an interview with Jason Noble of The Des Moines Register, Patton defended Donald Trump’s record of charitable donations. She told the newspaper Trump often asks groups to write a check to his charity rather than pay him directly for giving a speech. A Washington Post analysis concluded the candidate has not personally donated to his own charity since 2007.

As for those two political pros quotes above, I ran into John Norris at the statehouse late this morning. He and wife, Jackie Norris — the manager of Obama 2008 & Michelle Obama’s first White House chief of staff — have just returned to Des Moines after living in Rome for nearly two years. John Norris resigned as a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member in August of 2014 to become minister-counselor for the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service in Rome.

This afternoon, I talked by phone with David Kochel, who is in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s a “fellow” this fall at the Harvard Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School. Tomorrow will be the first of his (private) study groups about “the campaign that broke all the rules.” Read more here. Check out his Twitter feed for his lunch photo. It’s not about the food, but the company. (Hint: the guy authored a book titled, “This Just In” back in 2002.)

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.