THREE DEGREES REMOVED: Welcome to the land where major campaign surrogates roam along with leading vice-presidential contenders like Rob Portman and Marco Rubio. The chairs of both parties—Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman Schultz—have Three Degrees Removed status. So do minor Cabinet officials (say, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis) when they speak at political events on behalf of Obama’s reelection. Top Romney issue advisers (those who have personally briefed the candidate within the last month) are in this group as well. Add to the mix press secretaries brought on solely for the 2012 campaign (example: just-hired Romney foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell) and each candidate’s top five fund-raising bundlers.

Maximum Permissible Duration: One week or one day after the offender is stricken from media’s list of veepstakes favorites.

FOUR DEGREES REMOVED: We have reached the point when suddenly we are dealing with a major population explosion. Anyone who gets nominated for president (let alone elected) has hundreds of intimates—or, to be more precise, hundreds of politically useful connections who believe they are intimates. In the old days, these insiders were rewarded with tokens like presidential cuff links and campaign tie clasps. Now they are honored with the designation of Four Degrees Removed. Falling into this category is every campaign official whose name or face the candidate recognizes along with second-tier surrogates who are handed campaign talking points before they go on daytime cable TV. Romney issue advisers who only communicate with the campaign by sending in memos are in this camp as well. On the money front, seven-digit donors to a super PAC supporting the candidate (yes, Bill Maher, we are talking about you) are Zone Four-ers as are major campaign bundlers.

Maximum Permissible Duration: One day or one hour after the candidate feigns ignorance of the offender’s existence. Since Hilary Rosen is an exemplar of someone Four Degrees Removed from Obama, we now have scientific evidence that the Mommy Wars lasted a week longer than could be journalistically justified.

FIVE DEGREES REMOVED: Flotsam and George Jetson time. These are the political types whose seats at the 2013 Inauguration will be halfway between the Capitol and the White House—junior campaign staffers and their counterparts at the national party committees. Also considered Five Degrees Removed from real power is anyone who appears on daytime cable TV with the onscreen logo of Democratic or Republican “strategist” yet has never worked on a campaign in the 21st century. Rounding out this distant-drummer grouping are think-tank issue mavens who send unsolicited memos to the campaigns and anyone who has ever hosted a fund-raiser for the candidate, dating back to Romney’s 1994 race against Ted Kennedy and Obama’s 2004 Senate election.

Maximum Permissible Duration: Sixty minutes or six cable TV commercial breaks.

SIX DEGREES REMOVED: The deputy Idaho state directors of both the Obama and Romney campaigns.

Maximum Permissible Duration: One tweet.


Walter Shapiro just chronicled his ninth presidential campaign. He writes the “Character Sketch” political column for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter @WalterShapiroPD.