Most newspaper endorsements mostly don’t matter. The Washington Post on Friday endorsed Barack Obama; I confess that as much as I admire the editorial writers of the Washington Post (and I do) I haven’t read it yet. The Post, as I recall, has regularly endorsed Democratic candidates for a long time, although in 1988, when I was on the editorial page staff, it chose not to endorse either Michael Dukakis or George H. W. Bush, a stand that I think was logical in light of the paper’s editorial page stances—generally but not always liberal, often thoughtful in an intellectually interesting way—over the years.
But occasionally there comes an editorial page stance that matters. The Des Moines Register has endorsed Mitt Romney. The Register is not quite the statewide paper that it once was, but it is still clearly the most prominent paper in a state that is closely divided and has 6 critical electoral votes. The endorsement editorial is very much worth reading, because it tends to appeal to the high-minded affluent voters that can be found in large numbers on the west side of Des Moines and in its west side suburbs in Polk County and fast-growing Dallas County to the west. (Iowa was admitted to the Union in 1846, when the president was James K. Polk and the vice president was a Philadelphia banker named George M. Dallas, after whom Dallas, Texas, was also named.) The Register endorsed mostly Republicans from 1912 to 1960; it endorsed Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey in 1964 and 1968 and Richard Nixon in 1972; it has endorsed Democrats in every election since up until now. This is in line with a lot of editorial pages over the last century. They were Republican, but sort of thoughtful, up through the 1960s, and Democratic, but sort of thoughtful, from the 1970s on.
It is in the interest of the Romney campaign to transmit the text of the Register endorsement to voters in affluent suburbs all over the country; it is the kind of thing that will appeal to them, as they roll back from their trend of going more and more Democratic starting in 1992 and culminating in 2008 and recoil from the big government excesses of the Obama administration this year. It’s not the editorial I would have written. But, hey, the Register can speak for itself. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows Iowa as 49%-47% Obama, and this endorsement could make a significant difference in this closely divided state. If we assume that Mitt Romney is leading Barack Obama in the following Obama 2008 states, as he is in RCP polling averages—Indiana, the Nebraska 2nd congressional district, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Colorado, Romney can win the presidency without Ohio if he wins Iowa and Wisconsin. The Register endorsement could go some ways to making the difference.