In a little more than a week, voters in Iowa will tip off the actual voting in the Presidential primary contests. Ahead of the historic caucuses, the state’s largest paper, the Des Moines Register, endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio for the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton in the Democrat contest.
In picking Rubio, the paper wrote:
Sen. Marco Rubio has the potential to chart a new direction for the party, and perhaps the nation, with his message of restoring the American dream. We endorse him because he represents his party’s best hope.
On the Democrat side, the paper enthusiastically backed Clinton, stating that “no other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience.”
The paper dismissed the controversy surrounding Clinton’s handling of classified information and state secrets while she was Secretary of State. The paper commented:
She is not a perfect candidate, as evidenced by the way she has handled the furor over her private email server. In our endorsement of her 2008 campaign for president, we wrote that “when she makes a mistake, she should just say so.” That appears to be a lesson she has yet to fully embrace.
The endorsement did not address recent revelations about the breadth of Clinton’s mishandling of secrets or the growing possibility that the FBI will recommend criminal prosecution of Clinton.
In 2016, it isn’t at all clear that newspaper endorsements still have the currency they once had. With both the Republican and Democrat contests so close, however, even a small impact on the margins can lead to an outsize result in the national political narrative.
The Register‘s endorsement actually could have a big impact in the Republican contest, but not in the way the paper probably hopes. The paper’s editorial page has a decidedly left-of-center political viewpoint. David Yepsen, who was a long-time political correspondent for the paper, told Politico that the Republican endorsed by the paper could face a backlash.
“If some Republican does get endorsed, I think it will become a point to needle,” Yepsen told Politico. “‘See, we told you he was too liberal.'”
It is telling that neither Donald Trump nor Sen. Ted Cruz accepted invitations to meet with the paper’s editorial board. The paper interviewed every other major candidate running for both the Republican and Democrat nominations.
“They declined the board’s invitation for an interview, but doing so did not disqualify them from consideration for the endorsement,” according to a press release from the Register.
In the Des Moines Register poll released last week, Cruz led Donald Trump by a slim 3 points. Hillary Clinton led Bernie Sanders by just two points. Other, more recent polls, have confirmed the tight races in both parties.
With neither GOP frontrunners Trump and Cruz openly courting the paper’s endorsement, any impact from the Register‘s nod may be more pronounced in the race for third. Rubio is already a distant third in the most recent Iowa polls, but other candidates have been gaining ground recently.
The paper’s endorsement record has been mixed over the years. In 1988, it endorsed Illinois Senator Paul Simon in the Democrat caucus. Simon lost Iowa to Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt. On the Republican side, it endorsed Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who won the caucus but lost the nomination to Vice President George H. W. Bush.
In 1992, the paper endorsed native son Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who won the Democrat caucus but lost the nomination to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. In 1996, the paper again endorsed Bob Dole in the Republican caucus, and Dole went on to win the nomination but lose the general election.
In 2000, the paper endorsed New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley for the Democrat caucus and Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Republican contest. Neither man won the caucus that year, nor the nomination.
In 2004, the paper endorsed North Carolina Sen. John Edwards in the Democrat caucus. Edwards lost the caucus, and the nomination, to Sen. John Kerry. In 2008, the paper endorsed Hillary Clinton, who lost the caucus to Barack Obama. It again endorsed John McCain, who lost the caucus to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In the last election, the paper endorsed Mitt Romney, who lost the caucus by a very thin margin to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
While the paper’s endorsement may have little impact within the state, especially in the Republican contest, Rubio could use it to gain momentum outside the state. Rubio is in a close contest with Kasich, Bush, and Christie to claim the mainstream Republican mantle to challenge Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
With the New Hampshire primary a little more than two weeks away, a host of candidates are contesting a very tight battle for second place. Baring an unforeseen event, Donald Trump looks set to win the New Hampshire primary. For many candidates, especially Rubio, Kasich, Bush, and Christie, a strong 2nd or 3rd place showing is critical to extend their campaign.
The paper’s endorsement could help “X” separate himself from the very crowded field looking to consolidate the more moderate Republican vote. Endorsements are simply unique, minor outside events that can have a small impact on a campaign.
How big of an impact an endorsement has is answered by how the campaigns respond to it.