Yesterday, the New Hampshire Union Leader gave its endorsement for the presidential primary to Newt Gingrich. In a front-page editorial, the publisher stated that while the paper has some issues with Gingrich, he is the candidate they choose to back. So, just what does that mean?
I gotta tell ya — not that much, to be perfectly candid.
New Hampshire is, essentially, a one-newspaper state. We have quite a few newspapers, but nearly all of them are local papers. The Union Leader is the only statewide paper. Similarly, we’re also essentially a one-television station state, too, with only one network affiliate that reaches the entire state (WMUR-9 in Manchester).
To say that the Union Leader was a major power in New Hampshire politics would be a serious exercise in understatement. For a period — roughly the late 1960’s to the 1980’s — the paper essentially owned the state. They even managed to get their pet governor (Meldrim Thomson) elected for several years, and they made or broke candidates, based on how they kowtowed to the paper’s powerful publisher, William Loeb. I had my own issues with the way he ran things — one of his hallmarks were his front-page editorials, printed under a red, white, and blue banner. I thought the front page should be sacrosanct, free of ads and opinions.
Loeb leveraged the paper’s power into the New Hampshire primary, where he found he could make the presidential candidates — especially the Republicans — dance to his tune. His greatest moment of influence was in 1972, when his attacks on Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME) were credited with helping end his presidential bid.
Anyway, Loeb ran the state right up until he died in 1981, and his widow — Nackey Scripps Gallowhur Loeb, of the Scripps newspaper family — took over. She was nowhere near the force her late husband was, and the paper’s influence started to wane.She died in 2000, and the new publisher — Joe McQuaid — has done all he can to reverse it, but has met with little success.
The Union Leader also has a rather spotty record of endorsing winners. It’s packed Steve Forbes, Pete DuPont, and Pat Buchanan — twice. And of those 4 (covering 1988-2000), only Buchanan won, in 1996.
So, it’s a positive for Gingrich, but not much of one. What’s more important these days are the endorsements of individual New Hampshire Republicans — and those have been steadily signing on with Mitt Romney. These are the people who have the established connections and infrastructure that can really sway the electorate, and get them to the polls in January. Between their support and Romney’s own history with the state — he’s a resident of Massachusetts, he was a fairly successful governor, and he owns a home here — the question is not whether Romney will win New Hampshire, but by how much and who will take second.
And the Union Leader’s endorsement of Gingrich might score him a few percentage points, but it won’t do much to change that.