Early Endorsements Not a Sure Sign of Success

Does the name Sam Yorty sound familiar?

The longtime mayor of Los Angeles ran for president in 1972 as a conservative Democrat and received the endorsement of the largest New Hampshire newspaper, the Manchester Union Leader. Not that it helped Yorty's campaign much: He finished far behind fellow Democrats Ed Muskie and George McGovern in the primary, with just six percent of the vote. Which raises the question: Do endorsements from newspapers in the early states really matter?

The 2008 presidential hopefuls have recently touted their primary and caucus endorsements. Democratic candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY) received the support of The Des Moines Register, while The Boston Globe has endorsed Republican Sen. John McCain (AZ).

Here, a look at some past endorsements — and how the votes panned out:

The Des Moines Register didn't start endorsing presidential candidates until 1988, but their first endorsement bolstered the numbers of Democratic candidate Paul Simon, then a senator from Illinois. Simon finished a close second in the Iowa caucuses to Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri. The party nomination ultimately went to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who finished third in the caucuses.

In 1992, the Manchester Union Leader endorsed conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan over incumbent President George Bush. Buchanan lost the primary, but received a larger percentage of the vote than expected. Bush went on to lose the general election to Bill Clinton.

In 2000, The Des Moines Register endorsed former Sen. Bill Bradley (NJ) over Vice President Al Gore in the Democratic caucuses. The newspaper called Bradley's vision "compelling," with a "fundamental decency about him that would bode well for healing the festering partisan wounds." Between Gore and Bradley, the paper said, Bradley "has the better appreciation of the possibilities and the right kind of leadership to realize them." Gore trounced Bradley in the Iowa caucuses, 63 percent to 35 percent, and eventually won the party nomination.

Also in 2000, The Des Moines Register endorsed Republican George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, who went on to win both the nomination and the presidency. The paper called Bush a governor who "cultivates an open style of leadership, welcoming different points of view" and a politician who "speaks with conviction of not wanting to leave anyone behind in America."

In 2004, The Des Moines Register endorsed Democrat John Edwards, then a senator from North Carolina. The newspaper wrote that it originally dismissed Edwards because of his limited experience in public office, but changed its position given his eloquence in speaking about the needs of ordinary Americans. Edwards went on to win 32 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus, second only to Sen. John Kerry's 38 percent — whose ticket he later joined as the candidate for vice president. They lost to President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

This month, The Des Moines Register endorsed Sen. John McCain (AZ) for the Republican nomination. It seems the editorial board's feelings toward McCain have warmed considerably since 2000, when it decried McCain's "tendency to petulance when the cameras are off, and a lone-wolf style of action that has left him without the support of colleagues who should be his biggest admirers."

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