In 2012 race, GOP candidates rely less on fill-ins

November 27, 2011 - 8:40 AM
Santorum 2012

Former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum talks to media during his visit to Charmingfare Farm in Candia, N.H. Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — At Mitt Romney's New Hampshire headquarters, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie played a time-worn shtick for the cameras, picking up a telephone alongside volunteers who were dialing undecided voters on behalf of the candidate they support.

Christie actually called Romney and the two chatted about an upcoming debate.

"Be yourself," Christie advised, as he accomplished what he needed to while a dozen reporters watched: He generated positive media attention for a candidate who was elsewhere at the time.

When they can't be in New Hampshire, Iowa and other early voting states, presidential hopefuls traditionally have sent others in their stead.

But this campaign season, surrogates such as Christie have been scarce, in large part because the field of candidates was so slow to develop. Christie, for example, thought of jumping in until October.

"In the past, you would have had full campaign staffs for all the candidates six to eight months out at least, and some campaigns here are still just starting to put boots on the ground," said South Carolina political consultant Luke Byars.

He said aside from the candidates' wives and adult children, no stand-ins have spoken in his state, though he expects activity will pick up.

In Iowa, Rick Perry's wife, Anita, has campaigned and one of Romney's sons, Josh, filled in for his father this month at a GOP event in Des Moines. In 2008, Romney's five sons traveled the country in a Winnebago.

New Hampshire has seen a bit more activity beyond politicians' family members. In addition to Christie making pitches for Romney, former Homeland Security Secretary and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge has campaigned for Jon Huntsman. But otherwise traffic has been light.

Tom Rath, a veteran New Hampshire political operative who has advised Romney's presidential campaigns in 2008 and this year, said surrogates are of limited use in states where voters are accustomed to close encounters with the candidates.

"Frankly, New Hampshire doesn't take kindly to surrogates. We like the candidate," he said.

He does consider Christie the ideal type of surrogate, someone who can bring independent validation of a candidate's message and explain clearly how he came to his endorsement.