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A “surrogate” refers to an individual who publicly speaks on behalf of a candidate or elected official, typically to promote, defend, or explain their positions and policies.

Surrogates can include a wide range of individuals, such as campaign staff, elected officials, celebrities, or subject-matter experts, who use their platform to magnify the message of the political entity they represent.

The efficacy of a surrogate hinges on their credibility, communicative skill, and the degree to which their own public image aligns with the political agenda they are advocating for.

From The Atlantic:

You’ve probably noticed them—those celebrities on stage at campaign events, creating hype for presidential aspirants who may or may not be more charismatic than they are. Or those House and Senate members taking to cable news to assert their chosen contenders’ bona fides. Candidates depend on these individuals, called surrogates, to lend enthusiasm and credibility to a campaign. But depending on their level of expertise—or personal behavior—their usefulness can vary.

Origin of “Surrogate”

From WXIA:

A campaign surrogate is another politician, celebrity or person of influence, campaigning on a candidate’s behalf. According to Eric Kasper, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, it’s an old practice dating back to the early days of politics.

In fact, in the old days, it was considered “un-presidential” for a candidate to campaign for himself.

Said political scientist Charles Bullock: “They would conduct what they would call front porch campaigns, where they would literally just sit at home but the real campaigning would be done by other party members who would stir up crowds and try to get people to vote for their nominee.

More on “Surrogate”

A person designated to speak on behalf of an officeholder or candidate.

The surrogate’s remarks are supposed to sound extemporaneous and on-the-spot, but in reality are well-coordinated talking points.

Spouses are the most consistent campaign surrogates. They’re brought out to ooze authenticity and share the “lighter” side of the candidate. Spouses often tell endearingly corny jokes and stories about their first date, weakness for junk food, or other harmless tales.

One of the most unique campaign surrogates was former president Bill Clinton, who traveled extensively to campaign for his wife Hillary during the 2007–8 Democratic primaries. Bill Clinton was in a unique position for a spousal campaign surro-gate, having actually served in the office his wife was running for.

After Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, Bill Clinton became a surrogate, if somewhat reluctantly, for her former rival. Four years later, though, Bill Clinton was all-in as an Obama surrogate. The forty-second president cut a campaign ad touting President Obama’s authorization of a risky mission to kill 9/11 terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. At the Democratic national convention in Charlotte, Clinton’s speech was considered superior to President Obama’s own argument for reelection.

From Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes © 2014 Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark.

Use of “Surrogate” in a sentence

  • The campaign deployed a series of high-profile surrogates to swing states, aiming to galvanize voter enthusiasm in the final stretch before the election.
  • After the candidate’s controversial remarks stirred public debate, her surrogates were quick to hit the media circuit, offering clarifications and defusing the situation.
  • The senator, serving as a surrogate for the presidential hopeful, navigated tough questions during the interview, skillfully reframing the narrative to align with the campaign’s core messages.