A flood of well-known Democrats are hitting the campaign trail to bolster a stubbornly unpopular Hillary Clinton as she seeks to close the deal with voters, demonstrating her advantage of being able to deploy many more surrogates than GOP nominee Donald Trump has at his disposal.
As Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, seek to cover the ground in key battleground states, Michelle Obama -- the most popular political figure in the country -- will join the trail by making her first campaign appearance for Clinton next week in Northern Virginia. Sen. Elizabeth Warren will return to the stump Friday in Philadelphia.
Those announcements come after Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of the fall campaign, which saw Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former President Bill Clinton, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and many other high-profile backers fan out to support Clinton.
Clinton needs the support. Polls show the race tightening, despite her continued dominance not just on campaign surrogates, but TV advertising spending and field operations as well.
Coming out of Labor Day, Clinton’s campaign and its allied organizations will now shift into a higher gear as they look to overcome her weaknesses as a candidate through the sheer force of a superior campaign operation.
Popular campaign surrogates can act as force multipliers, energizing voters and volunteers, raising money, and grabbing local media attention in many more places than the candidate alone can visit. They can also bolster support for a candidate among key voting blocks.
For instance, Sanders’ visit to New Hampshire Monday -- his first solo campaign appearance for his former primary rival -- earned front-page attention there, as did Biden’s appearance with vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine in Pittsburgh.
“On every issue, Hillary Clinton is the superior candidate, hands down,” Sanders said. He will likely campaign for Clinton on college campuses through November, to reach the young people who have been so skeptical of Clinton, Democrats say.
Trump was on the campaign trail Monday with Pence but the holiday weekend came and went with no other surrogates to stump for the GOP ticket on the trail.
Tuesday morning’s headlines demonstrated the impact. In Detroit (“Clinton on Trump: ‘Give me a break’”), Manchester (“Sanders boosts Clinton”), and Pittsburgh (“Kaine: Clinton’s a ‘You’re hired’ leader” and “Biden, Kaine show support for unions, warn of Trump’s stance on wages”) the Clinton-Kaine ticket profited off of the surrogate stops.
In Ohio, where both Trump, Clinton and their running mates spent Monday, both candidates scored photos on the front page of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer with the headline “Clinton, Trump campaign here: All four airplanes waiting at Hopkins at same time.” Trump did win the headline battle in Youngstown’s The Vindicator, featuring the headline “Trump’s fair tour enthralls backers.” Trump’s team later blasted this out in an e-mail to press.
The Trump campaign’s strategy so far, however, has been to use surrogates to bolster events that Trump is already headlining. Often, rallies feature frequent appearances from supporters like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Sen. Jeff Sessions, who vamp for Trump before he hits the stage. This past weekend, in a much different venue but with similar effect, Dr. Ben Carson led Trump through the neighborhood he grew up in in Detroit, Michigan.
When campaigning in Florida, State Attorney General Pam Bondi sometimes leads off rallies for the Republican nominee. The eldest Trump children, throughout the primaries and the general, have made repeated guest appearances and spoken on stage about their father and his hopes for the presidency.
Just because top names aren’t hosting public campaign-organized rallies of their own does not mean some are unwilling to do so. Asked by NBC News Tuesday morning if he’d be willing to hit the trail on his own for Trump, Giuliani said he’d “be happy to do that if the campaign thinks it’s valuable” — joking that he gets nervous about public speaking so he’s “not sure I’d want to go by myself.”
“Wherever that can help,” he said. “I’m available.”
But many name-brand Republicans have been missing from the campaign conversation altogether. Neither of the two living former GOP presidents has been involved in the campaign and just one of the party’s former presidential nominees attended his nominating convention in July. Others are not supportive, like Mitt Romney, the last GOP nominee, who has been openly opposed to Trump’s candidacy. And the candidate's relationship to the other current big-name GOP leader, House Speaker Paul Ryan, has been strained at best.
“Not only does Donald Trump not have the support of any living former President of the United States or even the most recent GOP nominee for President, but many other prominent Republicans are conveniently absent from campaigning for him because they share the growing doubts about his candidacy," said Clinton campaign spokesperson Jesse Ferguson.
Clinton has a built-in advantage in the popularity of her surrogates as well. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal recently polled 15 political figures associated with each campaign and found the seven most popular were all Democrats.
Chelsea Clinton, who will return soon for her first campaign events since giving birth to her second child, was more popular than Ivanka Trump, while Melania Trump was less popular than either Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama.
Meanwhile, President Obama, whose approval rating has enjoyed a surge in the sunset of his presidency, is scheduled to campaign for Clinton next Tuesday in Pennsylvania. And Biden will return to stump shortly and often, according to campaign aides. Clinton, tied closely to the current administration and running on many of Obama's policies, benefits to some extent from the power of incumbency -- and would be facing a headwind were Obama less popular.
Bill Clinton, who stayed mostly out of sight during the summer, will campaign in four states this week.
Campaigning in Ohio this weekend, he touted all the Republicans who have endorsed Clinton. “I had one of those guys tell me one time, he said 'I hate the way we treat you but if we fought you fair you'd beat us all the time,'” he said.
And the rest of the campaign will feature plenty of other governors, mayors, cabinet secretaries, prominent activists, and even actors like Tony Goldwyn and Don Cheadle campaigning for Clinton in battleground states. Those special guests will only become more frequent and more prominent closer to Election Day.
On Tuesday, Kaine will travel to North Carolina to hit Trump on national security in what the campaign is billing as major national security address aimed at raising his profile so he can be an even more valuable surrogate.
Since nothing comes easily for Hillary Clinton, Democrats are taking no chances. Unsure of what surprises may away them in the next 63 days, and eager for a large margin, the party is looking to run up the score as much possible while they can.
Outside groups will also start dramatically increasingly their activities in the final push. Priorities USA, the main super PAC supporting Clinton, has roughly $100 million in ad time already reserved, according to a campaign spokesperson, which is more than double what they've already spent.
Pro-Clinton super PACs and official campaign arms working to elect Democratic House and Senate members will ramp up spending on ads too, many of which will take aim at Trump as a way to hurt Republican ballot candidates.
Other allied groups, like labor unions, are supplementing the Clinton campaign’s massive field operation, with the AFL-CIO alone planning to deploy 100,000 staff and volunteers across the country by Election Day.
Meanwhile, most of the major super PACs that backed Mitt Romney’s presidential run in 2012 have stayed out of the presidential race and his get-out-the-vote efforts has been slow to develop. So far, Trump has been outspent 10-to-1. And few down-ballot candidates are standing up for Trump, while many are already running on the assumption that he'll lose.
Clinton has every advantage money can buy, and may need all of them to close the deal with Trump.