Opinion: Breaking News: Des Moines Register picks McCain, Clinton

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A big, big night for John McCain, scoring two major unexpected newspaper endorsements in two varied regions.

The Des Moines Register, the most important newspaper in the first state to choose presidential nominating delegates, will endorse the senator from Arizona for the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nod in Sunday’s editions.

“The times call for competence,’ the newspaper stated.’Americans want their government to work again. The times call for readiness to lead. Americans want their country to do great things again. They’ll regain trust in their government when they see a president make that happen.”

McCain, who was tied for fifth in the Register’s November Iowa poll of likely caucus-goers, was described this way in the Register editorial:


“Time after time, McCain has stuck to his beliefs in the face of opposition from other elected leaders and the public. He has criticized crop and ethanol subsidies during two presidential campaigns in Iowa. He bucked his party and president by opposing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. A year ago, in the face of growing criticism, he staunchly supported President Bush’s decision to increase troop strength in Iraq.

“McCain would enter the White House with deep knowledge of national-security and foreign-policy issues. He knows war, something we believe would make him reluctant to start one. He’s also a fierce defender of civil liberties. As a survivor of torture, he has stood resolutely against it. He pledges to start rebuilding America’s image abroad.

“The force of John McCain’s moral authority could go a long way toward restoring Americans’ trust...

in government and inspiring new generations to believe in the goodness and greatness of America.”

Typically, because of its liberal bent, the Register’s editorial approval carries more weight with Iowa’s Democratic voters. Some 40% of Iowa Republican caucus-goers are evangelical Christians and polls indicate they are favoring Mike Huckabee.

However, with the rise of alternative media and the Internet and the Gannett paper pulling back from its once saturation statewide coverage, the endorsement of that paper does not carry the political clout that it once did.

About Clinton the Register wrote:

“Readiness to lead sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama, who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine president. When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton. Yet, with his relative inexperience, it’s hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead.”


The endorsements (the board noted it paid no attention to poll standings in its selections; McCain has been focusing on New Hampshire, not Iowa where he is not well-organized) will give McCain and Clinton a boost of strength and added credibility in these closing two-and-half weeks before some 120,000 Democrats and about the same number of Republicans (out of Iowa’s 3 million residents) will kick somebody’s campaign into high gear for the nation’s first primary five days later in New Hampshire.

In 2004, as Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt argued and attacked their way to the finish line, the Register endorsed John Edwards, who surged to second place behind John Kerry, and both ultimately made up the Democratic ticket.

As pleased as the Clinton camp probably is, it must also remember that in the past 20 years no Democrat endorsed by the Register has gone on to win the party’s presidential nomination. The paper chose Edwards in 2004, Bill Bradley in 2000 and Paul Simon in 1988. The Democratic caucuses were uncontested in 1992 and 1996.

(UPDATE: The Register’s endorsement announcement contained the following paragraph: ‘The Register’s editorial board members who participated in the endorsement process were: Laura Hollingsworth, publisher; Carolyn Washburn, editor; Carol Hunter, editorial page editor; Linda Lantor Fandel, deputy editorial page editor; Rox Laird, editorial writer; and Andie Dominick, editorial writer.’ Late tonight some commentors on the website questioned if there might have been some gender bias toward a female candidate by an all-female editorial board.)

Also, tonight the Boston Globe announced that it was endorsing McCain and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for their parties’ nominations.

Of Obama, the Globe said, ‘all the other Democratic contenders have more conventional resumes, and have spent more time in Washington. But that exposure has tended to give them a sense of government’s constraints. Obama is more open to its possibilities.’

About McCain, the Globe said his honesty had come at a political cost but could help a polarized nation as a welcome antidote to the ‘toxic political approach’ of the last two presidential elections. Noting that its editorial board has many differences with McCain stands, the endorsement said:

‘As a lawmaker and as a candidate, he has done more than his share to transcend partisanship and promote an honest discussion of the problems facing the United States. He deserves the opportunity to represent his party in November’s election.’

--Andrew Malcolm