Tuesday, December 16, 2003

In endorsement race, Kerry holds his own
Some key figures ignore Dean lead

December 12, 2003 - Boston Globe - by Glen Johnson

Despite John F. Kerry's sagging poll numbers in New Hampshire, one of the state's top elected officials defied convention wisdom recently: Manchester's mayor, Bob Baines, publicly embraced the Massachusetts Democrat and endorsed his campaign for their party's presidential nomination.

It was part of a pattern in which 27 prominent Granite State Democrats have thrown their backing to Kerry this year, a half-dozen of them -- including former Governor Jeanne Shaheen -- since his poll numbers peaked in August. That total, according to a tally by the politicsnh.com website, is more than three times as many who are supporting former Vermont governor Howard Dean, and almost twice the number who are backing two other candidates, Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

That pattern holds true in Iowa, which kicks off the delegate-selection process with its Jan. 19 caucuses. Kerry is running third in the polls behind Gephardt and Dean, but has gotten the endorsements of 23 of 68 Democrats in the state Legislature, including Mary Mascher, the minority whip of the House, and Senator Dennis Black of Grinnell, whose district includes the Maytag appliance headquarters and its unionized workforce. The total is more than Gephardt's and Dean's combined.

With everything to gain by backing a winner and plenty to lose by not, why would Baines and the others risk their political reputations and clout by backing a potential loser? Instinct, loyalty, and a belief that the decisive phase of the campaign is only beginning, they say.

"Some people have said I'm jumping on the Titanic; I don't feel that way at all," the mayor said in an interview. "I'm supporting someone I think can win and be a strong leader. It doesn't matter to me what the polls say."

State Senator Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, who threw his support to Edwards despite polls showing him in the single digits, said: "I'm a little guy from a little state who's trying to make just a little imprint on what I think is a great thing."

Politicians regularly debate the value of endorsements, typically unveiled with a glorious speech in which a politician outlines why he or she has decided to back a candidate. The event usually concludes with the endorser and endorsee clasping hands amid the flash of news cameras and the cheer of a handpicked audience.

While the backing of a marquee name can bring a candidate free media exposure, analysts argue that the most valuable endorsements in a Democratic primary generally come from labor unions. They have a structure that can organize the rank and file. They also have experience in voter canvassing, sign-holding, and other tasks requiring manpower.

Kerry argues that his broad, continued string of endorsements is a tangible sign of his campaign's viability. "Why do these institutional players do that?" he asked yesterday during a meeting with Globe editors and reporters. "Because they believe I can beat George Bush, because they want to run on a ticket with me, and because they believe I speak to the sort of uniting part of our party."



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