Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Register's Endorsements- What Do They Mean?

The much-anticipated Des Moine Register caucus endorsements were released earlier tonight, with the nods going to Hillary on the Dem side and - surprisingly - McCain on the Republican side.

I don't generally put much stock in the value of newspaper endorsements in high-profile races - the voters generally know the candidates well enough to make up their minds on their own. Rarely will you find a voter who changes their vote just because of an endorsement by their local paper.

In the case of the Hillary endorsement, I think this point rings particularly true. At this point, Hillary is more than a little well-known in Iowa; moreover, the reason given for the endorsement is straight out of Hillary's campaign theme: experience. So the endorsement tells the voters nothing new and doesn't do anything by way of making an argument with which the voters aren't already familiar. I don't see how the endorsement will persuade Obama or Edwards voters to switch sides; nor do I see it having much of an effect on the small number of undecided Dems.

However, the McCain endorsement could play a bigger role than most newspaper endorsements. McCain has barely campaigned in Iowa (and for good reason given his position on subsidies), and does not need to do anything in the Iowa caucuses to build momentum going into the Super Tuesday primaries. If by some miracle McCain were to place in the top 3 in Iowa though, it would give him a mountain of positive press that would rapidly put him back in the top tier of candidates. This upward movement would come at the same time as Giuliani stumbles through the pre-Super Tuesday states.

Again, McCain has made no play to do well in Iowa. As a result, his poll numbers in the state have been hanging out with Ron Paul in the 5 to 8% range. The Register endorsement could give those numbers a sizable boost because it gives him all sorts of free, positive publicity throughout the state of Iowa. This is helped by the corresponding double whammy of today's Boston Globe endorsement, the combination of which should give McCain plenty of national press coverage in the next 24-48 hours. Add to that the fact that 10-12% of likely Republican caucus-goers are still officially "undecided" and the fact that McCain's most similar competition (Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson) have all been flagging in the last few weeks. My guess is that this will all add up to a noticeable boost in McCain's Iowa numbers over the next few weeks, perhaps five to ten points; if he can get those numbers high enough to take a second or third place finish, then he would have all of the momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina.