Des Moines Register goes for Clinton (and McCain)

The Des Moines Register has just endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race -- a major (and somewhat surprising) boost for her campaign. And they did so by citing the argument Clinton has been making most insistently in the campaign trail: her superior experience, "determination to succeed." Calling her "tough," they praised her for inspiring confidence. "The choice comes down to preparedness," the editorial board wrote.

They went on to set up a dichotomy between Obama being inspiring but ultimately weak when it comes to delivery and Clinton's ability to get things done. "Obama, her chief rival, inspired our imaginations. But it was Clinton who inspired our confidence." The DMR explicitely addressed Barack Obama's inexperience -- what polls says worries Iowa voters the most:

That readiness to lead sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama, who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine president. When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton. Yet, with his relative inexperience, it’s hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead.

Insofar as the DMR has tried to answer the problem that all polls say voters have been grappling with -- is Obama too inexperienced? is Clinton enough change? -- this could very well play a huge part in the Iowa conversation over the next few weeks. And it really could not have come at a better time for Hillary Clinton! She has been in free fall in early state polls -- and Obama has been showing some heavy momentum in the past 2 weeks, jumping too his biggest lead yet (9%) in a Research 2000 poll out yesterday. Clinton desperately needed some positive buzz, and she got it right now.

In 2004, the DMR went for John Edwards eight days before the caucuses were held, praising him for his optimistic campaign. The endorsement helped Edwards tremendously by confirming the impression caucus-goers were developing of him in the closing weeks, and Edwards arguably had even more momentum than Kerry. While he came in second, his strong showing was even more unexpected than the one of the Massachusetts Senator.

The fact that Edwards lost the paper's endorsement is not in itself a rebuke; the editorial board has mostly changed in the past four years, and the field of candidates is very different. But it is bound to generate some negative buzz for the Edwards campaign, especially as it points to two major differences since 2004. (1) Edwards has been trying to run a positive campaign in the past month, but most observers realize that he was the one going after Clinton the most aggressively for most of the year, making his new-found positive image a bit hypocritical. (2) Obama pretty much stole the sunny and fresh candidate image Edwards had four years ago.

Among Republicans, the DMR selected John McCain, though that is bound to have a much smaller impact. The paper endorses Democrats in the general election, making it a dubious barometer of conservative thought. Furthermore, the Democratic candidates very very intensely lobbied for the paper's endorsement, devoting much resources to lobbying the board members, while the Republican candidates mostly stayed away. Most of the pre-endorsement buzz focused on the Democratic endorsement -- and John McCain is such a non-factor in Iowa that this is unlikely to change anything at all.

(I have to add that the paper's sense of self-importance is truly stunning. They boasted that the debates they organized this week could be "seismic" (they were anything but) and they have been counting down to this endorsement for days. The announcement "presidential endorsements to come tonight" has been featured on their website all day. Not to mention the number of dinner and breakfasts the board members apparently enjoyed with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the other candidates.)

Obama got some good news of his own, however, in New Hampshire. The Boston Globe (which circulates in NH) endorsed Barack Obama and John McCain in its Sunday edition. That could generate some buzz for both candidates. While it will be less influential than the DMR's support of Clinton, Obama can use it to offset the disappointment of not getting the Iowa nod. The Boston Globe dismisses the inexperience argument in very strong terms and praises Obama for opening new opportunities:

America needs a president with an intuitive sense of the wider world.... Barack Obama has this understanding at his core...
It is true that the other Democratic contenders have more conventional resumes, and have spent more time in Washington. But that exposure has tended to give them a sense of government's constraints. Obama is more animated by its possibilities.

In the Republican field, this is certainly an embarrassment for Mitt Romney who did not get the endorsement of his home-state paper. John McCain can now boast of getting two major endorsements in one night, and it is especially important for him to run very well in New Hampshire where he has to aim for the win or at least a very strong second.

All in all, however, the DMR matters much more both because it is much more likely to actually move votes and affect the outcome, and because Iowa comes first and a Clinton win there could be all she needs to run to the nomination.

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  • I only think the DMR's ability to "move votes" is dependent upon it being in touch with the voters in the state. I just do not see any movement on the ground toward Clinton. Indeed, the precise opposite is true. People have been abandoning her. The reason why the 2004 DMR endorsement mattered was because it was in sync with Iowa voters; there was a groundswell moving towards Edwards and the DMR picked up on it. Here, it would seem that the DMR is trying to go against what the voters on the ground in Iowa are expressing. In this respect, its endorsement should not be overvalued; it will not generate the same result as its 2004 endorsement did for Edwards simply because that endorsement did not create the groundswell for Edwards it just reflected it. You cannot make something from nothing and that appears to be what the DMR endorsement tonight is trying to do.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 15 December, 2007 23:46  

  • The Boston Globe, widely read in New Hampshire, endorsed Barack Obama this morning.

    The only endorsements that really matter, though, are the ones that happen in the caucus meetings and the voting booths all over America.

    Just three more weeks till all the fun begins.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 16 December, 2007 11:23  

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