TOPICS > Politics

New Endorsements Help Heat Up ’08 Race

December 17, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT
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With just over two weeks before Iowa's presidential caucus, several candidates have picked up key endorsements, including Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain. The chief political columnist for Politico assesses the latest election developments.

GWEN IFILL: As Ray showed us, it’s political crunch time in Iowa, but also in New Hampshire. One sure indication of the wide-open race in both states: Local newspapers and influential politicians are beginning to take sides. Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico, is spending his life these days on the trail, and he joins us now from Iowa.

Hello, Roger.

ROGER SIMON, Chief Political Columnist, The Politico: Hello, Gwen.

Power of endorsements

GWEN IFILL: Let's start by talking about these endorsements, especially this Des Moines Register endorsement. We listen and we hear about endorsements, but does it really mean anything?

ROGER SIMON: It probably means more in Iowa, especially on the Democratic side -- they endorsed Hillary Clinton -- than it means in other states for one unique reason. The voting in the Iowa Democratic caucus is not secret. It's open.

It's something you have to do in front of your friends and neighbors and spouse and children and employer or employees, and people don't want to be embarrassed by the choice they make. They have to do it in public.

An awful lot of Howard Dean voters four years ago got embarrassed with some of the things that Governor Dean had said just before the caucus, and they simply didn't want to stand up in public and vote for him. Hillary Clinton has been having a rough couple of weeks these last few weeks.

The Des Moines Register endorsement gives those people who might be on the bubble with regards to support her or not or wavering in their support a reason to say, "Well, yes, it's a good vote. It's a vote I'll make in public for Hillary Clinton."

And that, I think, is the reason it's more important than the usual newspaper endorsement.

GWEN IFILL: Let's stick with Iowa for a moment, because then I want to move to the endorsements in New Hampshire. We also saw a couple members of Congress endorse today in Iowa, as well as the first lady of the state. Do people pay attention to these kinds of endorsements?

ROGER SIMON: They pay some attention. It's better to have endorsements than not have endorsements. It's far better when the person endorsing you has a political organization that he can actually put at your disposal.

But even for the most beloved person, the most beloved politician, or most beloved political spouse endorsing you, it is very hard in practical politics to transfer that affection to somebody else. Because you support a congressman, because you have good feelings about the first lady of Iowa, it is hard to convince people to then say, "Yes, this is an absolute reason why I'm going to support their choice."

GWEN IFILL: It was also interesting to see in Iowa that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton came out with new television ads today in which, if you didn't know that the Des Moines Register had endorsed Senator Clinton, you would have thought it endorsed Senator Obama, actually.

ROGER SIMON: Which is why Hillary Clinton this morning on any number of TV shows ballyhooed that endorsement. You will see ads before caucus night emphasizing that. You'll see mailings emphasizing it. And the calls are going out already emphasizing it.

McCain earns nods in New Hampshire

GWEN IFILL: OK, let's move on to New Hampshire. We saw the Boston Globe weighed in, and they kind of supported -- they supported Senator McCain, as well. But on the Democratic side, Senator Obama. And Senator McCain, what, he pulled off endorsements also in Portsmouth and in Manchester in New Hampshire.

ROGER SIMON: That's right, and these are good endorsements. People tend to look upon newspaper endorsements slightly as less partisan than a political endorsement, to something based on some rational, logical basis, which the newspaper lays out, rather than a political endorsement or an emotional endorsement.

And it should help both candidates, especially John McCain, who is depending on independents in New Hampshire to vote for him. And independents in New Hampshire are 43 percent of the registered vote. They gave him a huge victory eight years ago, by 19 percentage points, over George W. Bush.

And he needs independents again. Independents are exactly those kind of people who might be paid more attention to in newspaper endorsements than others.

GWEN IFILL: Is that what the Joe Lieberman announcement was today? It was unusual to see a Democrat cross over to endorse in a Republican primary.

ROGER SIMON: Well, Joe Lieberman is actually officially the member of the Joe Lieberman party. That's the way it read on the ballot. He's an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He is a pro-war independent. How many pro-war independents are out there? We don't know.

And as Lieberman said today, one of the reasons he endorsed Senator McCain is because no Democrat asked him to endorse them, and John McCain did. That probably shows you how popular Joe Lieberman is with the Democratic Party right now. But as I said, it's better to get that endorsement than to have it go to an opponent.

Huckabee, Giuliani focus elsewhere

GWEN IFILL: So what happened to the front-runners in this race, including one of the newly minted front-runners? I noticed today that Mike Huckabee spent his day in Beverly Hills and that Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani, is spending a lot of his time in Florida.

ROGER SIMON: Giuliani -- if I can take the second part first -- Giuliani has been prepared for a long time to cede the early primary states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, hoping to win in Florida and to then go on and win on those 20-plus states that are voting on February 5th, where more than 1,000 delegates are at stake and where one mathematically could win.

The trouble with that strategy, of course, is that, if you lose all the early states, those poll numbers could turn around, and you may not be popular in the later states.

For Mike Huckabee, he needs money. Even if he gets a win in Iowa -- and he certainly has an impressive lead in the polls -- the question is, can he use that win in the later states that take more media, more money, and more organization? And he has to go out there and he has to go to any state where people will put dollars in front of him. And if that's Beverly Hills, California, that's where he's going to be.

GWEN IFILL: So it's not just that it's warmer there than it is in Des Moines now? I feel your pain, Roger.

ROGER SIMON: Well, thank you, but we're indoors right now.

Bill Clinton throws his weight

GWEN IFILL: That's good. We take care of that for you. Let's talk about Bill Clinton, the number-one Bigfoot surrogate in this race who has been weighing in, apparently, according to the newspapers, behind the scenes, as well as in front of the scenes, on behalf of his wife. Is he helping or hurting?

ROGER SIMON: I don't think he's been helping that much lately. You know, he is a beloved figure in the Democratic Party, the only Democratic president to win two terms since Franklin Roosevelt, huge support in the African-American community. But he's had a series of missteps or misstatements.

When he gave a speech here in Iowa, telling people how he had always been an opponent of the Iraq war, and then people produced his statements to the contrary, it raised the worst possible thing you could raise if your name is Clinton: the word "parsing."

She doesn't want to be seen as someone who has parsed as to her initial support for the Iraq war and her opposition now.

GWEN IFILL: He wasn't parsing when he said on Charlie Rose over the weekend that the country would be "rolling the dice" by supporting Barack Obama.

ROGER SIMON: No, and it is certainly his role as a surrogate to take on the opposition for his wife, but it's emotionally difficult. And you can see -- you referenced Charlie Rose. You could see how emotional he was on that show.

I think it is probably harder to have your spouse running in a difficult race than running in a difficult race yourself. And I think he's going to be campaigning here in Iowa tomorrow, and I expect he'll take on Barack Obama again.

Generally speaking, the candidates in the race like to end on a positive note right before election day. The surrogates are free to go negative for the whole way.

GWEN IFILL: OK, Roger Simon, I think it's time for you to go back outdoors. Thanks for staying warm with us.

ROGER SIMON: Thank you for the opportunity, Gwen.