Washington – Hillary Clinton’s visit to Connecticut Thursday will boost a campaign in Connecticut that has strongly relied on a slew of events headlined by supporters who’ve acted as surrogates for the candidate.
Clinton has enlisted her daughter Chelsea to campaign for her in Hartford Wednesday and – more than any other candidate – has made the use of campaign surrogates a strategy in her efforts to win big in Connecticut’s Democratic primary next week.
Analyst say surrogates can be helpful, especially since Clinton can tap many high-level supporters in Connecticut to spread the message and use their own political organization to get out the vote on primary day, April 26. But they can’t take the place of the real thing – a candidate’s appearance – or a popular political message.
“Surrogates can at least energize a candidate’s supporters a bit, particularly if the stand-ins are popular and well-known themselves,” said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “There is a small, short-term localized effect to any campaign event. But surrogates aren’t much of a substitute for the actual candidate, who will draw far more attention from voters and potential voters, as well as news coverage that others will see or hear about.”
Clinton’s first visit to Connecticut Thursday at the Wilson-Gray YMCA in Hartford comes the day after her daughter’s event at Dunns River, 2996 Main St., in Hartford. Hilary Clinton will appear with family members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and of victims of gun violence in Connecticut cities.
Her campaign so far has made use of political stand-ins in Connecticut, tapping members of the Connecticut congressional delegation – including Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District. Gov. Dannel Malloy and the leaders of the state’s major cities, including Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, have also been Clinton surrogates, as have been key members of the state assembly.
Most of those surrogates held gun-safety related events and knocked Clinton primary rival Bernie Sanders on what they say is a poor gun safety record.
The Clinton campaign says Chelsea Clinton will also “talk about how her mom is the best candidate to tackle the epidemic of gun violence in communities across America.”
Chelsea Clinton’s appearance will help her mom, but only to a point.
To Skelley, appearances like Chelsea Clinton’s “don’t significantly affect election outcomes.”
“Larger forces, such as ideology, race, and age, are far more important in the Democratic race than who is campaigning for Clinton or Sanders,” he said.
Nevertheless, Sanders plans to send some last-minute surrogates of his own to Connecticut. His campaign declined to say whether he will make a personal visit to the state.
The Sanders campaign said Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, will come to Connecticut, as they have to other primary states, serving up some of their tasty product.
On the GOP side, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has been to the state and plans to come again, has used former Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays and state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, as surrogates.
Kasich rival Donald Trump has done his own campaigning with a rally in Hartford last week and plans to return to the state. Sen. Ted Cruz has not campaigned much in Connecticut, a state that lacks the grassroots evangelical movement he’s been able to tap in other places.
Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says most surrogates are nowhere near as effective as the party bosses that used to make or break a campaign, like John M. Bailey, who dominated Connecticut politics between 1950 and his death in 1975.
“Those party bosses could actively drive voters to the polls,” Ornstein said.
Surrogates don’t have that kind of power, but have political networks and campaign organizations that can help out.
But for Clinton, there may be a reason some of her surrogates are not be as effective as she’d like.
“Obviously, you’ve got a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters who are young college students in Connecticut who are not going to be moved much by what a governor or senator says,” Ornstein said.
Many of Clinton’s surrogates in Connecticut are superdelegates, usually elected officials and are seated automatically at the Democratic National Convention and can support whom they choose.
Fifteen of Connecticut’s 16 super delegates have already chosen to support Clinton, as have most superdelegates in other states.
But the Clinton campaign hopes to also have the majority of pledged delegates on its side to avoid charges that party insiders tipped the scale for her
Ornstein said the next round of primaries, on April 26, which include Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware as well as Connecticut, are key to Clinton to stop Sanders’ momentum and to keep him from catching up with her in the pledged delegate count.
Before New York’s results, Clinton had 1,307 pledged delegates and Sanders had 1,094. Fifty-five pledged Democratic delegates are at stake in Connecticut.
Ornstein said Sanders would have to beat Clinton by more than 10 percentage points in New York and the rest of the primaries to overtake Clinton’s lead in the regular delegate count.
“If she comes close to turning the tables (on April 26), effectively this is over,” he said.