By John Wagner and Jose A. DelReal,
LAS VEGAS — With Hillary Clinton focused on debate preparations and largely out of public view again Tuesday, her campaign dispatched Sen. Bernie Sanders to make her case in Arizona, a heavily Republican state where Clinton is making a late play.
It was the start of a planned parade this week by high-profile Clinton backers that will also include the candidate’s daughter, Chelsea, and first lady Michelle Obama. And it was testament to one clear advantage Clinton has heading into the closing weeks of her contest against Republican Donald Trump: a much longer and higher-powered roster of campaign surrogates.
Between now and Election Day, bold names campaigning around the country for Clinton will include a sitting president and vice president, a highly popular first lady, a former president (and husband of the candidate) and scores of elected officials whose appeal ranges from the party’s progressive wing to its more conservative voters.
Trump, by contrast, is mostly focused on Trump. Besides Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is dutifully touring the battleground states, the Republican ticket has no one staging separate rallies to extend the campaign’s reach at a critical time.
Some of Trump’s high-profile supporters, such as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, are helping out, but they tend to travel with Trump, appearing as opening acts at his rallies rather than venturing out on their own.
The disparity has not escaped the notice of some Trump boosters, including Marc Rotterman, a veteran Republican strategist in the battleground state of North Carolina.
Asked to name any high-profile Trump supporters besides Pence who’ve put on events in the Tar Heel State, Rotterman mentioned that Laura Trump, the wife of one of the candidate’s sons, had swung through town.
“Honestly, I’m at a loss. I just can’t recall anyone else,” Rotterman said. “The Clinton team has done a much better job deploying their assets, and that’s very clear.”
Part of the issue is that Republicans who could be campaigning for Trump have chosen not to. Two former GOP presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — have not endorsed Trump much less stepped out on the trail for him.
Others, such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), have chosen to focus their efforts on down-ballot races after losing patience with Trump in the wake of continuing headlines about his treatment of women and other controversies.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the campaign has more people out promoting the ticket than may be apparent, in part because many of its events — such as Women for Trump gatherings with guest speakers — are smaller by design. They are also not promoted to the national media.
“There is a perception that Hillary has more surrogates out on the trail,” Miller said. “I think that’s partially because she doesn’t campaign herself nearly as often as a typical candidate would. And there’s so little interest. She’s so boring that people might be looking for surrogates who are more exciting than her.”
At the same time, Miller acknowledged Trump employs a different model when it comes to using bigger names such as former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Guiliani.
“Mr. Trump likes to have some of our senior level surrogates and supporters on the road with him,” Miller said. “It helps add to the energy and the excitement when people are coming out.”
In an email exchange, another Trump surrogate, Gingrich, said Trump’s strategy is driven in part by his outsider status in the Republican Party.
“The challenge of being a genuine outsider who engineered a hostile takeover is that you have a very limited team of surrogates,” Gingrich said. “The advantage is that the outsider had a huge personal presence.”
Trump has spent significantly more time on the campaign trail in recent weeks than Clinton, who has opted to devote more time preparing for the three debates.
On Tuesday, the eve of the final face-off, Trump held a pair of rallies in Colorado. Clinton spent the previous three days off the campaign trail and largely avoided the press as she flew from an airport near her home in Westchester, N.Y., to Las Vegas, where she was scheduled for more debate prep after landing.
Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic consultant not working for Clinton, said Clinton would probably have spent several days preparing for the final debate regardless. But, she said, her deep bench of surrogates has allowed her to have a strong presence in battleground states while she does “the things she needs to be doing,” she said.
Even if the candidates themselves are more important, political operatives from both parties say a robust surrogate program can provide a boost.
Surrogates serve as a force multiplier, said Adrienne Elrod, director of strategic communications and surrogates for Clinton’s campaign.
“Secretary Clinton cannot be in 100 places at once, so surrogates are very important to making sure we have a strong presence in multiple states to discuss the contrast between her and her opponent, energize supporters and ensure they turn out to vote,” she said.
Elrod estimated that Clinton is deploying more than 100 surrogates around the country during the election’s final weeks, if one counts celebrities and other varied endorsers.
Clinton has used surrogates to try to bolster her standing with particular segments of the electorate.
On Sunday in Denver, for example, two of the most liberal members of the Senate — Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — teamed up at an event in Colorado to make the case to progressives, a wing of the party that has been slow to warm to the nominee.
Other Clinton allies have been deployed strategically as well. The campaign has used President Obama in urban cores such as Philadelphia to energize parts of his coalition, which included African Americans and other minority voters.
Bill Clinton has embarked on bus tours through some of the country’s more rural areas, seeking to make the case for his wife to white working-class voters frustrated by their economic challenges and considering a vote for Trump. (When Hillary Clinton was recovering from pneumonia, Bill Clinton also stood in for her during an event in Las Vegas.)
Michelle Obama, meanwhile, has emerged as a multifaceted campaigner who, last week in New Hampshire, delivered a stinging speech condemning Trump’s lewd talk and alleged groping of women.
“She appeals to millennials — many of these kids grew up with her these last eight years,” Marsh said. “She obviously connects with women and with African Americans, too. So she’s a triple threat.”
For the most part, though, Clinton’s surrogates are more apt to make headlines in smaller media markets, where their presence is considered a big deal.
When Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, appeared in Erie, Pa., for example, a local television station devoted a segment the night before to a gathering of Democratic supporters where they make signs welcoming Kaine to the area.
The string of surrogates coming to Arizona was making headlines Tuesday even before Sanders arrived. A front-page story Tuesday in the Arizona Republic, the state’s largest paper, reported the candidate visits, calling them “a clear sign Democrats intend to compete in Arizona and that more traditional Democratic-leaning states are moving to their liking.”
Kevin Madden, a veteran GOP strategist and former staffer for Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, said the disparity in Trump’s and Clinton’s surrogate operations illustrate something fundamental about how the two campaigns have been run.
“This is the difference between a real campaign and a campaign that’s run off of a Twitter feed and a microphone,” Madden said. “You can tell that the Clinton campaign has a dedicated staff and dedicated resources to expanding their reach.”
Besides tapping fellow politicians, Clinton’s campaign also claims a full stable of entertainers and other celebrity endorsers that are hitting the trail and holding events on behalf of the Democratic nominee.
Comedian Billy Crystal and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda were among a couple of dozen stars of stage and screen who put on a benefit performance for Clinton’s campaign in New York in front of a crowd of 1,700 people and a national audience over the Internet.
And on Tuesday, the campaign announced a series of “Love Trumps Hate” concerts, designed to drive up voter turnout. Among the pop stars planning to participate: Jon Bon Jovi, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry.
As with politicians, celebrities carry weight with voters, Clinton aides said.
“They can validate her with their fan base,” said Elrod.
Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.