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Ground game
How local endorsements help presidential candidates

09/03/15



When prominent locals vouch for a presidential candidate, they add credibility to the campaign, and the more endorsements the better — though some are more valuable than others.

 
Campaign fuel
Endorsements for presidential candidates — both how many and who they’re from — can tell us a lot about their chances of winning the party nomination. FiveThirtyEight.com, the political blog known for relying on data for its reporting, calls this phenomenon “the endorsement primary,” because traditionally the candidate with the most endorsements from members of Congress and governors ends up being the nominee. The blog even has a point system where members of the House are worth 1 point, Senators are worth 5 points and governors are worth 10.
Based on this, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is enjoying a narrow lead in the highly contested Republican race with 34 points so far. He has the most representatives and three senators backing him. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in second place with 25 points from two governors and five Congressmen.
Interestingly, while Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton appears to be in a close race with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders when polls are consulted, she has a whopping 320 points in national endorsements. Sanders has zero. Vice President Joe Biden has more points, and he’s not even officially running.
 
Local endorsements
Endorsements from New Hampshire notables are a different ballgame. Republican strategist and former New Hampshire Attorney General Tom Rath said while all endorsements are about bolstering your legitimacy as a candidate, there’s more to it than that, especially at the local levels.
“I think what ... a local endorsement tends to do [is] ground the candidate with a couple of familiar faces so it’s not just a person from out of state coming in here, but somebody who has some folks known in the state who are vouching for them,” Rath said. “That adds credibility to the campaign and it grounds it a little bit in New Hampshire.”
Voters in the Granite State like it when a candidate takes the state seriously, and obtaining local endorsements sends the message that they are doing so, according to Rath.
It also gets the candidate’s name in the paper.
“The other thing that an endorsement does ... is it gives a candidate a story during a news cycle,” Rath said. “It’s a way to drive coverage for a couple of days. … That’s one of the things you’re always looking to do in a campaign, is try to control the flow of information.”
 
Scorecards
It’s still too early to be making any predictions based on the Fivethirtyeight scoring system or a scorecard of local endorsements since there are quite a few prominent individuals who have yet to make their choice. And with so many candidates to choose from, folks are watching the Republican scorecards closely.
The Boston Globe posted an endorsement tracker online that shows Bush tied with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former HP CEO Carly Fiorina with six local endorsements each. But the same tracker lists more than 65 Republican officials and operatives who have not yet aligned themselves with anyone. Numbers like these can be deceiving, even with a majority decided, according to former New Hampshire Democratic party chair Kathy Sullivan.
“I don’t think that matters so much, saying, ‘I’ve got the most endorsements of people.’ That doesn’t mean anything,” Sullivan said. “What’s important is, do you have people endorsing you who actually bring a level of respect, strategic advice [and] ability to get people to listen to them?”
Rath says the ideal endorsers are those who go beyond simply attaching their name to a candidate and giving their seal of approval. What a candidate really wants is an endorser who works for the campaign, making phone calls, appearing with the candidate and volunteering in other ways.
 
Who endorses
Sullivan says the key endorsements from the state will come from high-level elected officials and strategists. Both know what it takes to win in New Hampshire. Elected officials have a loyal following and, while in office, a ready staff to make phone calls on behalf of a candidate, while strategists bring a list of key connections with the right people and good advice.
“For example, a Jeanne Shaheen endorsement means a lot. A Maggie Hassan endorsement would mean a lot,” Sullivan said. “If Kelly Ayotte were to endorse, I think that would add instant credibility to a candidate.”
Sullivan and Rath agree that people like Ayotte and Hassan are less likely to make an endorsement in the primary because they are up for election or reelection themselves.
“[Ayotte] is probably the single most sought-after endorsement of anybody in the cycle. She’s also probably the single least likely to endorse,” Rath said.
Mayor Ted Gatsas is another highly sought-after endorsement but will likely not weigh in until after the mayoral race concludes in the fall.
That said, there are still many who have yet to endorse a candidate.
“I think there’s plenty of ‘good gets’ still out there,” Rath said. “A lot of state senators, a lot of people who have been involved in party apparatus, a lot of business leaders and community leaders. There’s a lot of folks out there.”
Rath said the endorsement of former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg is coveted by all Republicans in the race.
“He’s a highly respected and very popular office holder,” Rath said.
A big fish such as Gregg would warrant a more serious meeting between the man and the candidate, as opposed to the typically informal conversations, according to Sullivan.
“If I’m a candidate who would want his endorsement ... I would want to call and make arrangements to sit down and talk with him,” Sullivan said. “I think a little more effort would be made to sit down and have some private time to sit and talk about issues.”
And there are those working in the state’s political parties who do not have the luxury of endorsing a candidate during a primary. That includes party chairs and other paid staff members.
“Because it’s the New Hampshire primary, because it’s first in the nation, we have an obligation to make sure that every candidate feels that they’re playing on a level playing field,” Sullivan said.
But, occasionally, a party chair will step down from their post in order to make an endorsement.
“Back in 1999 — in fact, how I became state party chair — I was the vice chair and Jeff Woodburn was the chair. Jeff called and said, ‘I’ve decided I’m gonna have to step down because I want to endorse Al Gore.’ So he actually stepped down so he could do an endorsement,” Sullivan said. 
 
As seen in the September 3, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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