WASHINGTON -- “I want your endorsement. You’ll feel better when you give it.”
So said President Obama, ending a conversation with the editor and publisher of the Des Moines Register that was intended to be off the record, until the paper went public afterward with a complaint.
The Register is the largest newspaper in a highly competitive swing state. Newspaper endorsements may not sway many votes, but the Obama campaign evidently thought one from the Register could have enough influence over undecided voters to carve out a block of presidential time to speak with them. Mitt Romney had already spoken with the paper’s full editorial board on the record on Oct. 9.
It’s unclear why the Register’s editor and publisher first agreed to an off-the-record conversation, then insisted that the conversation be on the record and started griping publicly when the Obama campaign refused.
“How could we not? It’s the leader of the free world on line one,” editor Rick Green wrote.
But the White House quickly made a full transcript of the Q-and-A available, and the Register posted it for all to see. Perhaps the White House agreed because it turns out much of what the president said was similar to what he and his campaign have said all year in public.
“Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community,” Obama said at one point.
He was similarly candid on his view of the likelihood of a major “grand bargain”-style deficit reduction deal after the election. That along with other deals with Congress on energy and infrastructure could be enough to produce “a significant surge” in economic growth in a second term, he said.
Obama seems to have plenty of time available for on-the-record, and perhaps more to the point, on-camera interviews. He sits down with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” Wednesday, and is being trailed by NBC News cameras for special features with Brian Williams all week. On Friday he’ll sit for half an hour with MTV.
But he is doing fewer newspaper interviews. As Green noted, “like most newspapers around the country, the Register has lobbied for months to get both candidates to appear before our editorial board to analyze the important issues confronting Iowa, the rest of the country and the world.”
The Register will make its endorsement public this weekend. And, as the president indicated, he’d love to have it. He won it in 2008, as has the Democratic nominee in every presidential election going back to at least 1992, according to a tally maintained by National Journal’s Hotline.
Both campaigns have been circulating newspaper endorsements as they’ve come in during the closing weeks. But by and large, editorial boards have tended to side with one party’s candidate more often than not, as has been the case with the Register.
Among the exceptions so far this year: the Orlando Sentinel, which backed John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 but went for Romney in 2012. The Nashville Tennessean, from a much less competitive state, broke a long string of Democratic endorsements to also back Romney.
Turning the other way, the San Antonio Express-News endorsed Obama this time after backing Republican candidates in the previous five elections.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel announced Tuesday it would not endorse either candidate. It endorsed Obama in 2008, Kerry in 2004, but was neutral in 2000.