NOTE: Specific Endorsement Count by Candidate & Names: End of Post
Any one endorsement for a presidential candidate, in and of itself, is not generally considered that important in the long-term. However, how that endorser supports the candidate over time and the number of endorsements of stature can have significant influence. Every endorsement is a huge vote of confidence by the person putting their name on the line, in public (consider those who do not endorse candidates at all — there is a reason they don’t step up)
I have been giving a lot of thought to the large number of endorsements Governor Romney has compiled week in and week out. Gingrich sees this “voting” and he attempts to blunt their importance by referring to these as “the establishment” supporting Governor Romney.
No matter how you cut it, almost EVERY one of these endorsers knows both Gingrich and Romney; some better than others. Very few of these choose Gingrich. By the way, I have yet to hear any close friend of Gingrich or any colleague of his (that worked closely with him for years), ever say anything positive about the man as a leader (besides his ability to speak well). Why is that? I only hear negative things said of him from those that know him well.
Yesterday’s Opinion section of The Wall Street Journal discusses this important topic:
Do endorsements matter? Politicians certainly think so, and they spend loads of time courting party elites and opinion-makers. So far, though, 2012 has shown how the politics of anointment and appointment can fail.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley flopped mightily in trying to deliver her state for Mitt Romney. Evangelical leaders held a summit to get the Palmetto State to back their new choice, Rick Santorum, but he fared much worse than Mr. Romney. Newt Gingrich knows the feeling—New Hampshire’s supposedly dominant Manchester Union Leader newspaper huffed and puffed for Newt and got him less than 10% of the vote.
But it’s easy to cherry-pick examples to prove the folly of endorsements. In some circumstances, they can make a substantial difference.
Throughout American history, presidencies have been created by the laying on of incumbent hands. Thomas Jefferson effectively passed the presidency to his friend and confidant, James Madison. Andrew Jackson handed his populist democracy off to an unlikely dandy, Martin Van Buren, in 1836. Few would have imagined the studious and portly William Howard Taft as president until Theodore Roosevelt picked him in 1908. More recently, George H.W. Bush might not have been elected president without Ronald Reagan’s blessing. Madison, Van Buren, Taft and Mr. Bush all got their predecessor’s third term—when popular, presidents have extraordinary powers.
What about little-known state legislators and local sheriffs? Even low-level backing can attract the cameras and generate a positive story. But this can backfire if candidates overplay their hands, as Jon Huntsman did when his campaign hinted at a “major” announcement in Florida. Speculation naturally centered on former Gov. Jeb Bush. Not quite. Mr. Huntsman got only his son, Jeb Jr., and the media’s letdown showed in the coverage.
Even more than Democrats, Republicans typically nominate a candidate that party elites support. In “The Party Decides,” political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller analyzed endorsements made prior to the Iowa caucuses in presidential primary contests from 1980 to 2004. They found that the candidate who had won the biggest share of endorsements won the eventual nomination in nine of 10 competitive contests (the exception was Democrat John Kerry in 2004). On the GOP side, the eventual nominees all won a strong plurality of endorsements.
Not surprisingly, given Mr. Romney’s position as the front-runner and the fear that many Republican officeholders have of sharing a ballot with Mr. Gingrich or Ron Paul, the former Massachusetts governor has a long lead in endorsements from elected officials. According to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Mr. Romney has the backing of 72 members of Congress, versus a combined 17 for the other candidates.
This is good news for Mr. Romney. Mr. Gingrich is attempting to stir the populism of the GOP base by railing against “elites,” but many voters welcome guidance in intra-party contests. In a general election, voters have the invaluable short-hand cue of the party label. But in a nominating contest, all candidates have the same party label. How to choose just one? Differences in personality, background and policy help, but so does a candidate’s association with other well-known party figures. People want to puzzle out which candidate comes closest to their kind of Republican or Democrat.
Non-endorsements can send powerful signals to voters as well. For decades, leading Southern Democrats practiced “golden silence” in presidential years, refusing to endorse their party’s presidential nominees. This was a green light to voters that it was acceptable to support a Republican for the White House. In 1960, President Eisenhower wanted Vice President Nixon to succeed him, but he damaged Nixon’s campaign when asked what major decisions in his administration Nixon had influenced. “If you give me a week, I might think of one,” said Ike. The comment ended up in one of John Kennedy’s TV ads.
Could non-endorsements end up mattering in 2012, too? Despite decades on Capitol Hill and four years as speaker of the House, Mr. Gingrich has only 11 congressional endorsements, five of them from Georgians.
CHECK THESE TWO SITES FOR MANY SPECIFICS:
Endorsements for the Republican Party presidential primaries, 2012
RACE 4 2012 — Endorsements as of January 20, 2012