An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Can Endorsements Help a Campaign?


In addition to the Des Moines Register, John McCain also now holds a couple of other endorsements from the Boston Globe yesterday and, today, from Senator Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent.

With 17 days to go before the caucuses in Iowa and 22 days before the New Hampshire primary, we've brought in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson to talk about what it all might mean.

And first, Mara, let's talk about Hillary Clinton and the Des Moines Register endorsement. What might that mean for her and what are the polls saying about how she's doing there?

MARA LIASSON: Well, first of all, it's a big boost for her at a very crucial moment. She's been losing altitude. Her campaign went from being this perfectly disciplined mistake-free juggernaut, the inevitable candidate, to making a mistake a day. There were the comments by her national co-chair Billy Shaheen about Obama's teenage drug use that she had to personally repudiate then there was the attack on Obama's kindergarten essay about wanting to be president that her campaign admits now was a dumb move, and the polls weren't looking great either. Her lead in Iowa evaporated and Obama is now ahead there by a few points in the average of polls.

In New Hampshire, she still has a lead, but nowhere near the one she had before. And in South Carolina, she's in a statistical tie with Obama, so he clearly looked like the candidate with a momentum; she looked embattled. But one thing the Clintons know how to do is take every bit of good news and leverage it, so the Des Moines Register endorsement is already on the air - in radio and television campaign ads - whether it will make the difference for her in Iowa is unclear.

BLOCK: Let's talk also about John McCain - also got the endorsement of the Des Moines Register in a state where he's not thought to be especially competitive. What might that endorsement mean for him?

LIASSON: Well, I think it will help. It was a really interesting endorsement. It was a character endorsement. As they said in the editorial, they disagreed with McCain on all sorts of issues - on abortion, same sex marriage, Iraq - but they said he was a candidate of principle; he sticks to his beliefs on immigration or climate change even in the face of opposition from his own party.

And it is ironic because, as you point out, in Iowa, John McCain has practically disappeared. He's barely campaigning there. He skipped Iowa all together four years ago. But his campaign says what they're hoping for in Iowa is to at least place in the top four, and this endorsement might help him.

I should point out that this wasn't the first endorsement McCain got. The Union Leader, which was the very conservative New Hampshire paper, several weeks ago endorsed him, and that's probably even more important because the Union Leader is an opinion maker among conservatives and Republicans of New Hampshire where the Des Moines Register doesn't really play that kind of role among Republicans in Iowa. McCain, as you said, also got the Boston Globe endorsement. The Globe has a very big New Hampshire market. So all of these endorsements, while not game changers for McCain are certainly very important boosts for a campaign that, not very long ago, was flat on its back.

BLOCK: Yeah. And another endorsement for John McCain, not from a newspaper, but from a fellow senator - the former Democrat now independent Joe Lieberman. And tellingly, that endorsement came in New Hampshire, a state John McCain won in 2000.

LIASSON: Right. And that's obviously the place where - Lieberman might be able to do him some good. Lieberman was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000, and now he's an independent. He's broken with his old party on many, many issues, most prominently the Iraq War where he has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with McCain. So his endorsement might help McCain win back some of those crucial independent voters in New Hampshire that made up such a big part of McCain's win there in the 2000 Republican primary. And interestingly enough, Lieberman said today he originally had planned to wait to endorse someone after the primaries, but his old friend John McCain asked him for his support, and even more telling, no Democratic candidate asked Lieberman for his endorsement.

BLOCK: Yeah. Remind us, Mara, this - this campaign, John McCain's campaign was considered to be in deep, deep trouble not too long ago, what's happened?

LIASSON: Well, he's second in the polls in New Hampshire, but he's only single digits in Iowa; that's fifth place. He's also in fifth place in South Carolina, and I think the Republican primary has really become a game of five dimensional chess. I think McCain is hoping for a big Huckabee win in Iowa that would badly wound Romney, maybe bring Romney down from first place where he is now in New Hampshire and then maybe McCain could score another upset in New Hampshire. But then the question remains: What happens next? He might be in the same position as 2000 - doing well in New Hampshire, but with no money or organization to capitalize on it in the later states.

BLOCK: Okay. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.