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Surrogates 'Gone Wild'

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They're on the march and menacing both the Obama and Romney campaigns -- they're surrogates "gone wild."

Candidate surrogates are stand ins for their candidate. They're supposed to echo the candidate's official positions. Unfortunately, with the lure of instant stardom, fueled by Twitter, YouTube and the instant gratification of blogs, surrogates are often knocking a candidate's message right off its axis by making undisciplined comments off script.

From Obama's campaign manager David Axelrod and campaign strategist Hillary Rosen to Republican Congressman Alan West and Rush Limbaugh, their misfires have frequently pushed their candidate's message off the daily news stage.

It's not just designated surrogates.

With high amplification from social media, every elected official, journalist, party leader and talk show host can become a virtual surrogate and fall for the lure of self-importance, misspeaking for their candidate -- sometimes with dire consequences.

It wasn't this way during the last presidential campaign.

Campaign 2008 was Facebook politics -- slower, linear and subject to unlimited verbiage. Web tools were top down, like Facebook. Not this time. The 2012 presidential campaign is Twitter/YouTube politics, from the bottom up. It's the Twitter nexus: From Tweets, to Tweets plus YouTube and web links that generate massive email traffic to blog posts churning up more tweets, any of these sound bytes can end up reaching cable and print news desks.

The result, a simple misfire or flub is magnified exponentially in a matter of minutes.

The most recent example comes from Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Axelrod told host Chris Wallace that "the choice in this election is between an economy that produces a growing middle class and that gives people a chance to get ahead... and an economy that continues down the road we are on, where a fewer and fewer number of people do very well, and everybody else is running faster and faster just to keep pace."

We know what he meant to say. But he didn't say it. That's why he's a strategist, not a candidate. Republicans took advantage of the error. They posted the clip on YouTube, labeling the video "Obama adviser David Axelrod makes the case for Mitt Romney for President." Tweetophiles did the rest.

Then there's the Hilllary Rosen incident.

The Obama campaign had carefully crafted a mufti-week campaign to expose a 'Republican war on women.' Then Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Hilary Rosen made her controversial comments about Ann Romney ("she's never worked a day it her life.")

Rosen made her comments Wednesday on CNN at 8:52 p.m. Within minutes, critics were buzzing on Twitter and other social media. Twitter traffic mentioning Romney spiked from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, from essentially zero to 3,000 tweets, then soared Thursday morning from less than 1,000 to about 6,800. The Republican war on women quickly became a Democrat war on stay-at-home moms.

On the other side, there's the Allen West comment on alleged Congressional communists.

Just as the Romney campaign was hyping that 93% of jobs lost since 2008 were lost by women, Florida Republican Congressman Allen West was addressing a small group in Jensen Beach, FL. West said that "he's heard" up to 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Communist Party members. He was referring to the the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

It was a useful and apparently harmless hyperbole by the congressman for a small gathering of supporters. But by nightfall, even I was asked to comment on the congressman's observation by Jennifer Granholm, host of CurrentTV's "War Room". So a casual comment by congressman successfully overshadowed the Romney campaign's prime talking point for the day.

Here's the bottom line.

First, both camps had better get their facts right. Fact checking websites have multiplied and they conveniently use Twitter to broadcast their findings. Second, if candidate surrogates aren't quality tested for discipline and agility, there's going to be more message misfires. And this message to surrogates: if you're going to speak for the candidate, stick to the official talking points and be ready for follow up questions. Nothing will escape the voracious Twitter net.

Both presidential campaigns are expected to spend a billion dollars. They can't let incidental comments from Somewhere, USA by a party or elected official endanger that kind of investment. Time to wheel in surrogates gone wild.

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