When campaign surrogates fumble the message

Story highlights

  • Candidates' advocates have sometimes created sideshows campaigns have to rush to squelch
  • Sen. Marco Rubio has been one to feel the sting of major endorsers doing more harm than good

Washington (CNN)Sometimes, a well-placed surrogate can be just the lift a campaign needs. But sometimes, they fumble the ball, sending their candidate scrambling.

That's been the case often on the presidential campaign trail this year, with candidates' advocates sometimes creating sideshows campaigns have to rush to squelch.
Sen. Marco Rubio has felt the sting of major endorsers doing more harm than good.
Shortly after he dropped out of the race last week, Rick Santorum turned around and threw his weight behind the Florida Republican. But then the former Pennsylvania senator struggled to name a single Rubio accomplishment in an MSNBC interview, saying "it's hard."
Critics pounced, and Rubio spent the next few days cleaning up the mess.
Friday, another Rubio backer failed the quiz on the candidate's resume. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, was interviewed by The Hill about his colleague, speaking vaguely about Rubio's long record of accomplishments going back to his time the in Florida legislature. He finally settled on the National Defense Authorization Act, saying Rubio joined Inhofe in voting for the NDAA.
Inhofe was raising the Rubio campaign talking point that his main opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, voted only for cutting military spending.
The only problem: Rubio missed this year's NDAA vote, which drew him flak on the trail.
It's not just Rubio when it comes to struggling surrogates.
When Sarah Palin endorsed Donald Trump just before the Iowa caucuses, she seemed to make more news for her erratic speech and controversial comments than for her support for the mogul.
Palin seemed to imply at a rally in Oklahoma that her son, Track Palin, was arrested on domestic violence charges because he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in the military, saying President Barack Obama was neglecting veterans. She later denied that she was blaming Obama for her son's arrest, but the distraction lasted days.
On the day of the Iowa caucuses, Palin got into a tiff with another campaign surrogate: Iowa Rep. Steve King, who was stumping for Cruz.
King implied in a media interview that Trump used "assets and resources" to recruit Palin to his cause, and Palin took offense at a rally that afternoon.
"He got a touch of that Potomac fever there in D.C. Maybe he's been -- I don't know -- maybe he's been hanging out in a cornfield too long huffing ethanol or something," Palin said, according to Politico.
Another former candidate got a headache courtesy of his backer when Maine Gov. Paul LePage made racially-charged comments about drug dealers in Maine.
LePage was one of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's first major endorsements and campaigned for him in Iowa and New Hampshire. Christie dropped out of the race after finishing far behind in the Granite State.
LePage made comments about drug dealers impregnating "young, white girl(s)" in Maine, and later talked about bringing back the guillotine for drug offenses. But Christie stood by his backer and friend.
"I heard Paul's remarks, and frankly he's apologized for them," Christie said. "We can't judge people by one set of remarks they make."
The Democratic side of the race is also not immune from unforced errors.
Hillary Clinton supporters Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a pair of controversial remarks over the weekend.
As she introduced Clinton at a campaign event, Albright, as she frequently does, said "there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."
Clinton was asked about the comment in Thursday's Democratic debate and brushed it off as something Albright has said for years. The former secretary of state underscored that women should vote their conscience.
Albright walked back the comments in an apologetic New York Times op-ed on Friday, saying "this was the wrong context and the wrong time to use that line."
Steinem, who also has campaigned on the trail for Clinton, drew fire when she told Bill Maher that young women were supporting Clinton's opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, to meet men.
"When you're young, you're thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie," Steinem said. She later apologized and said she "misspoke."
Clinton's husband, Bill, has also been prone to gaffes, most recently offering up a sound bite that out of context didn't play well.
"Sometimes when I am on a stage like this, I wish that we weren't married, then I could say what I really think," Bill Clinton said last week in Hudson, New Hampshire. "I don't mean that in a negative way. I am happy."