Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


How much do endorsements matter?

If the headline could handle it, or if I was writing a Dickens-era novel, I would call this one, “In which your obedient ink-stained wretch free associates from endorsements to gender to race to the mystery of caucuses to the latest handicapping of

If the headline could handle it, or if I was writing a Dickens-era novel, I would call this one, “In which your obedient ink-stained wretch free associates from endorsements to gender to race to the mystery of caucuses to the latest handicapping of the Minn. Sen. Race, in a touching, desperate effort to give you some facts and ideas about the presidential race that you haven’t already heard.”

But even a twisting ramble needs a starting point, so:

How much do endorsements matter?

I’m talking here not about the Minnesota-style official party endorsement, but the personal endorsements of presidential candidates by elected officials? At the moment, I’m thinking: Not so much.

Sen. Barack Obama this morning announced that he has received the endorsement of Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington (state, of course). This might seem significant, especially since Washington Dems are caucusing Saturday.

Governors’ endorsements are sometimes said to be particularly important, in the belief that they have statewide organizations in place. I would note that two of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s most important wins on Super Tuesday were in states, Arizona and Massachusetts, in which Obama had the endorsement of the governors (Janet Napolitano in Arizona and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts.) Clinton won Arizona by a solid 51-42 percent and clobberized him in Mass. by 57-41. (And of course, Obama also had the backing of Mass. demi-god Ted Kennedy. Is it possible we made too much of that endorsement?

No help
Oh yeah. Gov. Pawlenty wasn’t able to do much for his guy, John McCain, in Minnesota either. But you heard about that.

By the way, if your suspicious mind, like mine, was drawn to the gender of two of those Obama endorsers, Napolitano and Gregoire, yes, I checked. Three of the five woman Dem governors have endorsed Obama. (The third was Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. And Obama did win Kansas by a wide margin, despite being endorsed by the governor.) So Clinton, whose success to date has relied heavily on the gender gap, lost the mini-primary among women governors.

The other two female Dem Guvs, Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware and Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, did endorse Clinton (Minner did so only after Joe Biden, also of Delaware, dropped out). Sure enough, Obama cleaned Clinton’s clock in Delaware, 53-42 percent. Clinton did win INFINITELY BIG in Michigan, but the value of the Granholm endorsement may have been outweighed by the fact that Cliinton was the only candidate on the ballot.

Circling back to Washington (state, of course), which as I said, is tomorrow, Obama is heavily favored to win there and already was before Gov. Gregoire weighed in. That is mostly because Washington (state) is a caucus state.

Obama has won seven caucuses this year, starting with Iowa, and including Minnesota on Tuesday. He has won them all big, several by 40- and 50-percentage-point margins. (Seriously, Idaho: 81-17; Alaska: 72-27; Kansas: 74-26; Minn.: 67-32; only Iowa was under 10 percentage points and it was 38-29). Clinton has won only one caucus state, Nevada, by only 51-45, and Obama ended up getting more delegates. The New Mexico caucus from Tuesday is very close and, unbelievably, they are still counting (and it’s looking like Clinton by a nose).

But Clinton has dominated in primary states, especially big ones (does the name California ring a bell?). Obama has lost most primaries, other than in some state (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama) with large black populations.

Better organization?
What is this about? My buddy Tom Hamburger of the Los Angeles Times, who has been studying the Obama successes hard, believes it is superior organization, which reputedly helps more in caucus states. The excellent Des Moines Register political reporter Thomas Beaumont writes that Team Obama figured out some things about how win caucuses in Iowa and has built his organization in all subsequent caucus states around veterans of the Iowa success.

Greg Mitchell, writing in Editor and Publisher of all places, wonders whether there is a race-based factor at work here and uses the caucus-non-caucus breakdown to re-raise the question of a so-called “Bradley effect.”

And in other political news…
Chris Cillizza, whose “The Fix” column runs on, is one of the best at watching and ranking the Senate and House races. He periodically runs “The Line” in which he lists the 10 Senate seats most likely to change party hands. In today’s update, Cillizza has moved Minnesota’s Senate seat (currently held by Republican Norm Coleman) from the sixth to the fifth most likely.

Cillizza doesn’t mention the electability issues that bother many DFLers about Al Franken. He mentions Mike Ciresi only in passing and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer not at all. He respects Coleman’s savvy, but mostly seems impressed with Franken the fund-raiser. Here’s his testimony:

“Many months ago, we wrote a piece about whether the candidacy of comedian/entertainer Al Franken is a nightmare or a dream for Senate Democrats. At the moment, it appears it is the latter. He continues to raise huge amounts of money — nearly $2 million over the final three months of 2007 — and draws rave reviews for the grassroots operation he is building. And, in a recent independent poll Franken had a solid edge over attorney, and 2000 Senate candidate, Mike Ciresi (D) and even carried a narrow margin over Sen. Norm Coleman (R). Coleman is one of the savviest incumbents in the Senate and won’t go easily or quietly. But, Franken is off to a very strong start.”

On a more national note, nine of the 10 seats that Cillizza rates as most likely to change hands are currently held by Republicans.