US First Lady Michelle Obama Image Credit: AFP

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 former United States presidents, the Vice-President, a popular first lady and two favourites of the young voters she has struggled to attract.

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 messages and provide added credibility with both the base and swing audience,” says Stephanie Cutter, the deputy manager of US 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 behaviour” and his campaign has done a poor job recruiting them.

Former US president George W. Bush and his brother, Jeb, aren’t supporting Trump. Nor are Romney, Ohio Governor John Kasich or 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 of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida are devoting their time to their own races.

That leaves second-tier surrogates like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, unpopular in 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 his home state of Alabama.

Hillary starts with her husband, Bill, the former president, who is both effective and erratic on the stump. He gave the Hillary campaign aides heartburn last week when he took a swipe at FBI Director James Comey, who has criticised Hillary’s use of a private email 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.

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

First lady Michelle Obama, whose Democratic National 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 [to be] 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 per cent. 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.

— Bloomberg

Albert Hunt is a Bloomberg columnist.