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Hillary Clinton's Huge Surrogate Advantage

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., (left) campaigns with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Ohio in June. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., (left) campaigns with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Ohio in June. Andrew Harnik/AP

Don­ald Trump ap­pears to have a new fa­vor­ite way to at­tack Hil­lary Clin­ton: her cam­paign sched­ule.

In the run-up to the first de­bate of the gen­er­al elec­tion, Trump sug­ges­ted on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions Clin­ton was sleep­ing in­stead of pre­par­ing for this past Monday’s show­down. At the de­bate it­self, Trump ques­tioned wheth­er his op­pon­ent had the “stam­ina” to serve as pres­id­ent. And as he re­turned to the cam­paign trail this week, Trump mocked Clin­ton’s re­cent health epis­ode, which side­lined her for a few days earli­er this month.

“You see all the days off that Hil­lary Clin­ton takes?” Trump asked the audi­ence at a Wed­nes­day rally in Coun­cil Bluffs, Iowa. “Day off. Day off. Day off. All those day offs, and then she can’t even make it to her car. Isn’t it tough? All those day offs. Right? Boom.”

It’s true that Trump has held more pub­lic events him­self than Clin­ton this month. But as it turned out, Clin­ton was also on the road Wed­nes­day, even though she prob­ably could have af­forded to take the day off if she wanted. In New Hamp­shire, Clin­ton was joined on the stump by her former rival Bernie Sanders, who fired up a crowd of mostly col­lege stu­dents. And Michelle Obama held two ral­lies of her own in Pennsylvania that af­ter­noon in sup­port of the former sec­ret­ary of state.

This week un­der­scored the massive sur­rog­ate ad­vant­age Clin­ton holds over Trump as the cam­paign enters its fi­nal six weeks. Aside from the nine stops Clin­ton and Tim Kaine had on their sched­ule from Sept. 26-30, the first lady, Sanders, Bill Clin­ton, Joe Biden, Chelsea Clin­ton and Ann Holton, Kaine’s wife, were set to hold a com­bined 20 events. By com­par­is­on, Trump and Mike Pence had nine ral­lies slated between them this week, but the cam­paign didn’t an­nounce any pub­lic events for their sur­rog­ates.

Sur­rog­ates have al­ways played an im­port­ant role in mul­tiply­ing and amp­li­fy­ing a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate’s mes­sage, but in a 2016 elec­tion that fea­tures two deeply un­pop­u­lar nom­in­ees, their im­pact could be even more pro­nounced. While Clin­ton as an all-star roster of Demo­crats at her dis­pos­al to make the case for her at ral­lies and on TV, Trump has still struggled to at­tract ef­fect­ive, high-pro­file Re­pub­lic­an sur­rog­ates to his cam­paign, even as polls have showed the race tight­en­ing.

“It’s huge ad­vant­age for Clin­ton,” said Stu­art Stevens, who served as the chief strategist for Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. “They have very spe­cif­ic con­stitu­en­cies. If you’re try­ing to do that for Trump, I don’t really know who you get. I think Trump is sort of in a Ground­hog Day mode with these ral­lies.”

One of Clin­ton’s most sig­ni­fic­ant prob­lems this cam­paign has been mo­bil­iz­ing the minor­ity and mil­len­ni­al voters that were in­stru­ment­al to the pres­id­ent’s vic­tor­ies in 2008 and 2012. That’s where the Oba­mas them­selves come in. Michelle Obama ad­dressed this head on in Phil­adelphia on Wed­nes­day, telling the crowd that “if you vote for someone oth­er than Hil­lary, or if you don’t vote at all, then you are help­ing to elect Hil­lary’s op­pon­ent.” And Barack Obama re­cently gave a fiery speech to the Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus Found­a­tion, which was fea­tured in a TV adfrom the pro-Clin­ton su­per PAC Pri­or­it­ies USA, say­ing he would con­sider it a “per­son­al in­sult” if they didn’t vote in Novem­ber.

Biden, who like both Oba­mas, boasts a high­er fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing than Clin­ton, can tar­get a dif­fer­ent slice of the elect­or­ate. The vice pres­id­ent has brought the cam­paign’s mes­sage on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions to work­ing-class voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio who might be con­sid­er­ing sup­port­ing Trump. Clin­ton has also de­ployed Sanders and Eliza­beth War­ren to col­lege cam­puses in New Hamp­shire, Ohio and Pennsylvania to dis­suade young voters from cast­ing their bal­lots for third-party can­did­ates like Gary John­son and Jill Stein.

“It’s not been Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign style to be an en­thu­si­asm gen­er­at­or,” said Iowa-based poll­ster Ann Selzer, who con­ducts sur­veys forBloomberg Polit­ics. “So if she can hand that part of the job off to some­body else, there’s an op­por­tun­ity for her to get a little bit of that activ­ity go­ing, even when she her­self isn’t ne­ces­sar­ily the in­stig­at­or of it.

Trump, mean­while, is con­tinu­ing to rely heav­ily on un­con­ven­tion­al and un­tested sur­rog­ates. Many of those with polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence at his side, like Newt Gin­grich and Rudy Gi­uliani, had been out of na­tion­al spot­light be­fore the join­ing Team Trump. Oth­ers bring plenty of per­son­al bag­gage. The Bridgeg­ate tri­al is cur­rently loom­ing over Chris Christie, while the Trump cam­paign blas­ted out a state­ment on de­bate night from New Hamp­shire Rep. Frank Guinta, who was found to have vi­ol­ated cam­paign fin­ance laws last year. Trump has also cam­paigned along­side con­tro­ver­sial celebrity fig­ures like Bobby Knight and Don King, who dropped the N-word at a cam­paign event last week.

“He can’t be on every out­let and in every battle­ground him­self every day,” Ben LaBolt, the pres­id­ent sec­ret­ary for Obama’s 2012 cam­paign, said of Trump. “He’s someone who des­per­ately needs to cre­den­tialed by ex­per­i­enced sur­rog­ates.”

Trump has turned to mem­bers of his fam­ily, many of whom spoke at the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion, as well. His chil­dren have held a hand­ful of solo cam­paign events and ap­peared in on­line ads and cam­paign emails, but most of their work has oc­curred be­hind the scenes.

Ivanka Trump, for in­stance, has met privately with law­makers this month and at­ten­ded a fun­draiser in Chica­go on Wed­nes­day. But even with a net fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ing of 19 per­cent­age points, ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust Gal­lup sur­vey, she has only at­ten­ded one rally with her fath­er since the con­ven­tion. Ivanka Trump has also cut down on her me­dia ap­pear­ances after a con­ten­tious in­ter­view with Cos­mo­pol­it­an magazine.

For her part, Melania Trump has stayed out of the pub­lic eye after her ad­dress at the con­ven­tion, which pla­gi­ar­ized sec­tions of a 2008 Michelle Obama speech. Trump’s sons seem to have a pen­chant for con­tro­versy too. Don­ald Trump Jr. was harshly cri­ti­cized earli­er this month for tweet­ing an im­age com­par­ing Syr­i­an refugees to Skittles.

No mat­ter how pop­u­lar they are, there’s still only so much sur­rog­ates can do. Des­pite all the dis­ad­vant­ages Trump has faced, in this area and oth­ers, he re­mains with­in strik­ing dis­tance of Clin­ton 40 days out from the elec­tion.

“Ul­ti­mately, Barack Obama’s name will not be on the bal­lot. Newt Gin­grich’s name will not be on the bal­lot,” Selzer said. “People are go­ing to vote for the nom­in­ee or not.”

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