Newt Gingrich got an important boost when he won the Union Leader’s endorsement on Sunday — but the paper’s track record shows he’s still far from a lock in the first primary state.
The good news for the former House speaker is that New Hampshire’s most influential newspaper was an early booster of Ronald Reagan and Pat Buchanan ahead of their primary wins, and four years ago, threw its weight behind John McCain as he resurrected his campaign with a victory in the state.
But those are the only three times since 1972 the newspaper has endorsed the eventual primary winner.
Instead, the paper has a history of supporting long shot conservatives over the establishment candidates who go on to win: Former Ohio Rep. John Ashbrook got its backing in 1972, and took just 10 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary against Richard Nixon. In 1988, the paper endorsed former Delaware Gov. Pete DuPont over then Vice President George H.W. Bush, former Sen. Bob Dole, former Rep. Jack Kemp and broadcaster Pat Robertson. DuPont received just 11 percent of the vote.
The Union Leader went for Steve Forbes in 2000. That year, publisher Joe McQuaid wrote that Forbes “believes in what he says and he says it. His two main rivals, on the other hand, seem much more interested in what the news media say about them than in their own message.”
Forbes came in third in the state’s primary, behind George W. Bush and McCain.
That’s not to say Sunday’s endorsement won’t move votes for Gingrich: The paper, and its publisher Joe McQuaid, are among the most respected conservative voices for their unmatched readership in the state. And more than in just a one-time front-page feature, the Union Leader tends to interweave its endorsement with its news coverage, bolstering its pick and attacking the other candidates. This will likely be in addition to the opinion columns that tend to run in the paper echoing the official choice.
In 2008, that support helped propel McCain — and bury Romney, whom the paper attacked endlessly in its news articles, as well as many subsequent columns and editorials.
And though Romney waged a charm offensive on the paper in the hopes of escaping at least that fate this time around, the newspaper used a similar argument in picking Gingrich over him as it did in picking McCain.
In its endorsement of McCain, the paper heralded McCain as “trusted to make informed decisions based on the best interests of his country, come hell or high water.”
As for Gingrich, the Union Leader went with him because “We look for conservatives of courage and conviction who are independent-minded, grounded in their core beliefs about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job.”
Union Leader editorial page editor Drew Cline, who appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, drew a parallel between the Manchester paper’s endorsement of McCain in 2008 and its endorsement of Gingrich in the 2012 GOP contest. Asked whether the influential Manchester paper would have endorsed Gingrich months ago, when his campaign received only single digit support in the polls, Cline said:
“Well, we did that with John McCain in 2008, and it worked out pretty well. We consider the candidate overall, we don’t just look at the poll numbers.”
But picking a winner wasn’t the main interest, Cline explained.
“We’re not trying to attach our name to a winner,” he said. “That’s not really leading. That would do our readers a very big disservice.”
The Gazette now offers Facebook Comments on its stories. You must be logged into your Facebook account to add comments. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal page, uncheck the box below the comment. Comments deemed offensive by the moderators will be removed, and commenters who persist may be banned from commenting on the site.