TED BEGOSIAN: Concord is not only New Hampshire's state capital, it is also a Democratic stronghold, and every four years, a hotspot for national media. Last Thursday, a little more than a week before the nation's first presidential primary, the editors and publisher of the Concord Monitor held a highly confidential meeting. The Monitor's editorial endorsement is highly prized and several candidates have met with the editorial board.
The Concord Monitor agreed to open its endorsement meeting, which lasted over two hours, to New York Times Television.
MIKE PRIDE, Editor, Concord Monitor: I think from talking to each other we kind of know that there are a few candidates that are off the table. And I don't think we need to spend a lot of time with those that are not on the table, but we may want to out of fairness throw out a couple of names, even though we don't think they'll be the candidate that we endorse. And to that end I thought maybe I'd start by asking Ari to talk a little about John Edwards.
ARI RICHTER, Managing Editor, Concord Monitor: I think he is sort of the sunniest of them, and his fundamental argument that, look, his life has been spent fighting for the have nots. And he sees his role to represent, sort of continuing in his lawyer's role as an advocate for the have nots. I think he can make that case pretty effectively.
RALPH JIMENEZ, Editorial Page Editor, Concord Monitor: I don't think times are quite bad enough for that to play, particularly against a president in wartime.
ARI RICHTER: He's just too new, hasn't finished his first Senate term and really didn't get into politics even until recent times.
MIKE PRIDE: Let's talk about Joe Lieberman. I'll start because he called me up last night to make his case for himself.
ARI RICHTER: He's in New Hampshire.
MIKE PRIDE: He's in New Hampshire, he moved to New Hampshire, and the editorial that we do tomorrow with the primary man we're going to be calling him Joe Hampshire. I think he is very clear headed, he's had clarity and consistency throughout the campaign as someone who supported the war, is seeking the Clinton mantle, is a true centrist, the record of a centrist. And that's the kind of candidate that we've supported in the past.
RALPH JIMENEZ: There's no real excitement there. It seems like candidates have a certain shelf life and both he and Gephardt have expired.
MIKE PRIDE: Why don't we step it up a notch. Felice, you told me the other day that you had a conversation with your mother the night before and you found yourself surprised at the end of it that you had made the case for Howard Dean. What case did you make, what case did you make for Dean?
FELICE BELMAN, Sunday Editor, Concord Monitor: Just the grassroots part of it, the fact that he's getting new people into politics, a lot of young people. That's what we tell people New Hampshire is about, and I think that he deserved big credit for playing the game the way we like to see it played.
MIKE PRIDE: How can you endorse for president, at a time of war, someone who has no foreign policy experience, who has spoken out and become a hip candidate because of his antiwar position, and who, at least from my perspective, now wears that as something of an albatross? How can that kind of candidate beat George Bush?
ARI RICHTER: Maybe the Bush machine is just so good that they're going to win.
TOM BROWN, Publisher, Concord Monitor: Well, I think we do need to move on, and a point I might make off of Dean is that we're so focused on defense -- and we'll probably get to Clark and really get into defense -- but there are other really serious issues.
MIKE PRIDE: Rob, why don't you start on Clark? I know you've liked him.
RALPH JIMENEZ: It's all about electability. In this election, with me I'm operating under the assumption that any of the four or five that was considered at the very top of this could be at least competent presidents, if not very good ones. So once I've made that decision, then electability is everything, and that kept steering me to Clark. I think he takes the foreign policy questions off the table and the national security questions off the table in a debate with Bush. I think he has the best chance to speak to the middle that I don't think Howard Dean or John Kerry can do.
FELICE BELMAN: Just because people worry about Dean not having the experience that would automatically assure you that he can be a wartime president. And I think a guy who has done nothing but the military is something we should be concerned about.
MIKE PRIDE: So I think that to endorse Wes Clark is to take a really big leap, a bigger leap than with some other candidates. He's only been in the race for three months. He's only been a politician for three months. He's only been a Democrat for three months.
RALPH JIMENEZ: Why don't you contrast him with the other war hero candidate?
MIKE PRIDE: The best argument against the positions that Bush has taken would be made, in my opinion, by John Kerry. I think that he has nuanced, thoughtful positions, won't overpromise or overreach in terms of domestic issues, will come down on the right side of environmental issues, the energy issues, the social programs -- all those kinds of things -- as opposed to what we have now in the White House.
And I think that his military service has inoculated him. I mean, he's a genuine war hero, and he just seems to me to be someone who has been interested in public policy for a very long time, and he's brought a big brain to it. Over time, he became the person that I thought would make the best president. He's the best prepared to be president of the United States.
RALPH JIMENEZ: He's not a natural campaigner, and again I worry about geography. I mean, we have the legacy of Michael Dukakis. So, again, I'm back to electability.
FELICE BELMAN: I'm really conflicted about Kerry. I think maybe you were the one who described Edwards as the sunniest candidate. I think maybe Kerry is the gloomiest, the cloudiest. And it's partly a physical thing. You see him on TV, he looks tired. He looks like his heart is not in it.
ARI RICHTER: For me, whatever his faults in terms of style, this is the guy I trust.
RALPH JIMENEZ: And I'd do Clark.
BOARD MEMBER: You'd do Clark.
BOARD MEMBER: So it's not going to be easy here.
FELICE BELMAN: I could persuade myself of either Dean or Kerry.
ARI RICHTER: Howard Dean has done the New Hampshire thing to a new level, and it may well be that he deserves to come in first place in the New Hampshire primary. But I still say that if the five of us all say that John Kerry is the best president, we should endorse him.
TOM BROWN: Well, I think we ought to try the Kerry editorial, and then we ought to see how it reads. The country needs a viable debate here about the future of America, and we need to put up a candidate that can bring it.
TED BEGOSIAN: At five minutes after midnight on Sunday, the Concord Monitor endorsement of Sen. John Kerry was published and made available at the same time to the Monitor's online edition. It's called "Kerry, the candidate best prepared to be president."