Endorsements do matter
By: Douglas Cohn and eleanor clift
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — Do endorsements matter? John McCain thinks they do, or he wouldn’t have asked Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to endorse him three weeks before the New Hampshire primary. Lieberman has effectively broken with the Democratic Party by giving his nod to McCain before he even knows who the Democratic nominee is going to be. As former Vice President Al Gore’s vice-presidential running mate in 2000, Lieberman is a high-profile catch for McCain, who is campaigning on the theme that he is the best candidate to unify the country and get government working again because he has forged ties across the aisle on Capitol Hill with the opposition party.
Lieberman calls himself an Independent Democrat. He caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate, but he votes with the Republicans to support the Iraq war, the issue that most draws him to McCain. When he lost the Democratic primary in ‘06, he bolted the party and handily won another term as an Independent. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., with their own political futures in mind, abandoned Lieberman and backed the anti-war candidate who had beaten him in the primaries.
Rightly or wrongly, Lieberman felt his party had treated him shabbily, and when McCain sought his endorsement, it was not a hard decision to support his friend and colleague. The question is whether Lieberman brings anything to the table for McCain in his quest for the presidency.
McCain is counting on Independents in New Hampshire to rally to his cause the way they did in 2000 when he was the straight-talking challenger to George W. Bush. McCain soundly defeated Bush in the primary and for a time looked like he could upset Bush for the nomination.
McCain is looking for the formula to motivate Independents to his side once again. Republican primary voters remain supportive of the war in Iraq, and McCain’s longstanding insistence that more troops were needed in the conflict appears to be paying off. He recalls that when President Bush first announced the surge, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., called it “the McCain surge,” which was not meant as a compliment. McCain wishes Edwards would revive the phrase now that increased U.S. troop levels are credited with reducing violence in Iraq.
Perhaps Lieberman’s vote of confidence will persuade some voters in New Hampshire, coming as it did on the heels of McCain picking up the endorsement of the Des Moines Register. McCain is barely competing in Iowa, but the boost from Iowa’s most influential newspaper could get him some traction in the state and affect attitudes in New Hampshire as well. A newspaper endorsement is the modern equivalent of the smoke-filled room, awarded after researching a candidate’s record, character and positions, along with personal interviews. Some people do pay attention to what their local newspaper has to say, and in a tight race, an endorsement can tip the balance.
On the Democratic side, the Register’s endorsement gave Hillary Clinton a needed boost, and it was one she and her campaign vigorously sought. Bill Clinton lobbied on behalf of his wife, as did former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark. Hillary spent hours answering questions from members of the newspaper’s editorial board, as did the other candidates.
With the race still fluid on both sides, candidates are looking for whatever edge they can get to gain favor with the voters. The company they keep, from the politicians and celebrities that line up with them to nods from newspapers, all gets factored into a vote that is sometimes more emotional than rational.
This is the endorsement phase of the campaign. The candidates have worked hard to sell themselves, now they’re hoping for a little help from their friends.
Published in The Messenger 12.26.07
Douglas Cohn, Eleanor Clift editorial column — Endorsements