Salena Zito

Purdue political scientist Bert Rockman says that in the "sound-bite free-zone" we now live in, we need go no further than Bill Clinton as an example of surrogate-gone-bad. Rockman still can’t figure out what Clinton said, while campaigning for Hillary, that was particularly inaccurate.

Yet all surrogate gaffes may not be created equal; a strong, passionate statement sometimes is planted in a surrogate by the campaign, and not just a slip of the tongue.

Campaigns never want their candidates to personally go negative on an opponent, because that drives up their negatives as well. So they try to do it indirectly through surrogates.

If that surrogate is identified with the campaign, however, deniability becomes problematic. If the surrogate says something foolish or embarrassing (even if strategically useful), the campaign has to separate itself from the remark or throw the surrogate out of the operation.

Which is where “527s,” those independent special-interest committees, kick in: With them, you have total deniability and the best of all worlds.

Wes Clark will not be the last surrogate to give a bad sound-bite – just ask Jesse Jackson, caught last week on a live microphone criticizing Obama's black-on-black interaction and threatening to remove certain body parts.

Just how does a campaign distance itself from and apply deniability to a supporter who bashes the supportee?


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.