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Look Who’s Talking Now
For Months Surrogates Helped Spread the Presidential Candidates’ Messages; What Can They Tell Us About the Run-up to November?

September 4, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Regardless of what happens between now and Tuesday, Nov. 3, the 2020 campaign for the White House will go down in history as a race like no other.

Played out against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the contest now comes down to a reckoning, rather than the passing of a torch from one generation to the next.

And while all presidential candidates through history have had their surrogates, rarely have they played the outsized part they have this year, showing up virtually where no campaign dared to tread, during the height of the coronavirus outbreak and its unexpected summer resurgence.

This article, and the accompanying charts divide the surrogates deployed during the past several months into non-ideological “factions” to provide a feel for the candidates’ support. The names, occupations and candidates supported were gleaned from “Today on the Campaign Trail” feature of The Well News’ daily email from Apr. 13-Aug. 13.

Some Notable Findings:

Biden Edges Trump in Support from Politicians, Trump Wins in Ex-Politicos

President Donald Trump was elected in 2016 due in part to his declarations that he was going to “drain the swamp” when he came to Washington. But at least in terms of the surrogates he’s deployed since the onset of the pandemic, he seems to have no problem having elected officials and former officials and staffers carry his message for him in 2020.

  • In fact, a total 40.7% of Trump’s surrogates this year have been members of the political establishment, however, it is well below Biden’s 60.7% of surrogates belonging to the same community.
  • Breaking the numbers down further, while the percentage of elected officials speaking out on Biden’s behalf far surpasses the percentage speaking out for Trump, 46.9% to 21.4%, the president has a slight edge on Biden in his use of former officials, staffers and political activists to spread his message, with 15.5% of Trump’s campaigners coming from this group, compared to 13.8% for Biden.

It’s no secret that the Trump campaign has leaned heavily on the president’s family in virtual events and personal appearances. In fact, Trump family members were deployed on the president’s behalf during the pandemic, more than four times as often as Biden family members attended virtual events for the former vice president.

Of course, there are more Trumps to go around, and Donald Trump Jr., Donald Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Eric Trump’s wife Lara have been particularly active on the president’s behalf.

When it comes to Biden, no family member has been more of a road warrior on his behalf, than his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who has participated in a virtual event nearly every day of the pandemic-crossed campaign.

Advocates

Distinctions between the two candidates emerge when one considers their reliance on advocates on social issues, labor, immigration and climate change to speak on their behalf.

Given the relative broadness of the Democratic platform, and it’s long time position as a centrist party and a “big tent” of inclusiveness, it wasn’t surprising to find the Biden team far more willing to have advocates speak out on the candidate’s behalf.

  • About 5.3% of his surrogates fell into this category, compared to 1.9% for Trump.
  • Biden also leads when it comes to advocates for education, with 5.3% of his surrogates coming from this arena.
  • 10.4% of Trump’s surrogates have come from the religious community, most of them Christian conservatives.
  • 4.3% of Biden’s surrogates were leaders or members of organized labor, including Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

Celebrities

While Trump and many of his supporters have no trouble demeaning the so-called “Hollywood elite,” it’s the president, not Joe Biden, who has so far leaned the most often on celebrities to gin up his support.

About 13% of Trump’s surrogates have been celebrities, compared to 10% for Biden.

Trump surrogates during this period have included former Miss USA 2009 runner-up Carrie Prejean Boller, “Apprentice” alumna Katrina Campins, ex-athletes Darryl Strawberry and Herschel Walker, and the comedian Jim Breuer.

Biden’s celebrity surrogates included Aubrey Plaza, Barbra Streisand, John Legend, Jennifer Garner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rufus Wainwright, Michelle Kwan, Greg Louganis, David Crosby, and Whoopi Goldberg.


Anthony Groves contributed to this report.

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