It’s now-or-never time for our endorsement decisions

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
ON TUESDAY, New Hampshire votes. On Wednesday, presidential candidates will descend on South Carolina in such numbers as we’ve never seen, and stay for the duration — the Republicans until the 19th of this month, the Democrats through the 26th.
    Time for us to get busy on The State’s editorial board. Not that we’ve been slacking off, but our pace starting this week is likely to make the past year look like a nice, long nap.
    Watch for more columns than usual from me on this page or the facing one. And between columns, keep an eye on my blog. But the main work of the next two weeks will be interviewing the remaining viable candidates and writing our endorsements. Our plan, from which we will deviate only under the most extreme circumstances, is to endorse in the GOP primary a week from today, Jan. 13, and to state our choice in the Democratic contest Jan. 20.
    But, asked regular gadfly Doug Ross on my blog last week, our endorsements have “already been written,” right? And as another writer, who goes by the pseudonym “weldon VII,” asked, “Why would Romney waste his time coming to see you, Brad?”
    Such are the pitfalls of blogging. Some folks mistake my passing observations for final conclusions and (an even greater mistake) my opinions for those of the whole editorial board.
    Right now — since I have not once asked any of my colleagues whom they currently prefer in the two primaries (I want that discussion to happen after the last interview — it makes for a more intense debate, but a much better-informed one), and since they haven’t hinted aloud or in print, I don’t know how near or far we are from our eventual consensus. (Ask me next week this time.)
    As for “weldon’s” comment — well, let’s be frank: He’s thinking of my oft-stated respect for John McCain. You don’t have to read the blog to know about that; it’s been stated here often enough.
    But I’ll say two things about that: First, I had good things to say about Mike Huckabee, too, after I met him for the first time on Sept. 20. He made a stronger impression than expected; he’s made a similar impression on a lot of other people since then.
    Secondly, I was a big admirer of Sen. McCain back in 2000, too — but we ended up endorsing George W. Bush.
    Let me tell you about that — and also answer another question Doug asked: Who breaks a tie on the editorial board?
    It generally doesn’t come to a tie, because we work really hard for a consensus. Some of us change our minds during the discussion, while others concede to a second choice, seeing that their first isn’t going to carry the day. It’s complicated.
    I can think of only two times when we had a “tie” to break, and one of them was in February 2000. Gov. Bush came in at 8 a.m. on the Wednesday before our endorsement; Sen. McCain joined us Thursday afternoon. (Alan Keyes had been in the previous week.) The moment Sen. McCain left, we began our final discussion.
    The previous weekend, I had written and e-mailed to my boss, the publisher, a 4,000-word memo explaining why I believed we should endorse Sen. McCain. I did so knowing that he (this was two publishers ago, I should add) was just as firmly for Gov. Bush. But he was leaving the question open until after the interviews.
    We went into those meetings with most of the group leaning toward McCain (based on comments volunteered to me). It’s amazing what a good meeting can do for a candidate, or what a bad one can do to a candidate. That Wednesday, George W. Bush had the most “on” hour of his life. I have never seen the man, before or since, present himself so well, or so articulately. (Maybe it was the time of day; maybe it was the two cups of coffee we watched him drink; most likely it was his firm knowledge that this was a make-or-break moment.)
    John McCain was in a funk on Thursday. I’ve never seen him so “off” as he was that day. In a downcast voice, he spoke of a young boy who’d come up to him that day and told him the senator had been his hero, but not any more, after what a caller had told the boy over the phone. (Neither he nor we fully appreciated yet the devastating impact that smear campaign would have.)
    The publisher had come prepared for our internal debate. He had a six-inch stack of documents he had gathered to support his position. When he was done, and I was done, we went around the table. Two people had changed their minds. It was a tie. And in a tie in which the publisher is on one side and the editorial page editor on the other, the publisher’s side wins.
    Do I make my decision solely on the basis of a single meeting? Of course not. But some of my colleagues don’t pay the kind of attention to these candidates that I do day after day; that’s not what they’re paid to do. They come in with relatively fresh perspectives.
    And while it doesn’t happen often, I’ve been known to change my mind in these meetings. I’m wary of this, and reluctant to give it too much weight. But if I don’t give it some weight, what indeed is the point of the interview?
    We’re working with the campaigns to firm up the appointments, but I’m hopeful that we’ll have spoken with Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson by the end of the day Thursday. Once those are out of the way, we hope to see Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — and John Edwards, if he’s still in it after Tuesday.
    I don’t know exactly how it’s going to go, but I know this is going to be interesting.

15 thoughts on “It’s now-or-never time for our endorsement decisions

  1. weldon VII

    Here you have it, Brad — the reason I don’t use my real name on your blog. I don’t want my name showing up in the paper unless I know the circumstances under which it will.
    It’s easier to write what you really think when the worst that can happen is you get an email about it.
    Not too long ago, I saw something I like in another Columbia publication, congratulated them about it in an email, and then, with my permission, they used my little concoction as an editorial letter accompanied by my real name.
    I thought no one I knew might possibly notice that letter. But when I walked into my weekly poker game the next week, some 70 miles from Columbia, I caught grief about my little written diatribe from a fellow who does not share my point of view on that particular subject.
    “You ought to be more careful about what you write,” he said.
    “You ought to be more careful about what you read,” I said.
    When you share a name with Mitt Romney, them’s the breaks.

    Reply
  2. mark_glfr

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but who cares what the editors at The State newspaper think? This big endorsement process sounds like a huge ego trip to me.
    I challenge you to find one voter who changes his or her mind due to The State’s endorsement. (Do you have any research that indicates the percentage of your subscribers actually read the editorials?)
    I guess the fact that the candidates take the time to go through the ordeal of editorial boards indicates there is some impact, but I can’t see it. And I like The State newspaper just fine, so it’s not a shot.
    I see your recollection of how the publisher swayed support for Bush over McCain in 2000 as a case study in what’s wrong with endorsements, and how they can go very wrong.

    Reply
  3. Doug Ross

    My name now has appeared twice in Brad’s editorials. No residual effects and only one person asked me if it is was me who Brad mentioned.
    I guess my take on it is that I don’t write anything here that I would not be willing to express publicly, so it’s not big deal. But I do find it a little odd that Brad doesn’t at least give some notice of his intent to use the words of a poster ahead of time. Again, no big deal.
    Gadfly, huh? I’ll accept that. I guess “Voice of Truth and Reason” was too long.
    :-)
    As for the endorsements, I was thinking today, “How can a newspaper endorse both a Republican AND a Democrat?” How could you pick one person from each party who would presumably meet the requirements The State considers critical to be President? If you like McCain for his pro-war, pro-illegal immigration, anti-tax cut stance, then I guess you could match him up with Hillary’s views the best. But is there anyone else who would support either McCain or Hillary equally? And if you pick Obama and McCain, then you’re being very schizophrenic.
    So, why doesn’t The State just pick one candidate and stick with him (or her)? Endorse the best candidate for President.

    Reply
  4. Karen McLeod

    I enjoy reading your endorsements, but I usually disagree with them (I thought you’d lost your collective mind when you endorsed Bush). I just enjoy seeing the arguements you put forth for your chosen person.

    Reply
  5. Brad Warthen

    Don’t worry, guy with the unpronounceable pseudonym. I’m not taking it the wrong way; I’m just considering the (anonymous) source.
    As for “who cares” about The State’s endorsement? The candidates who come in for interviews. I suppose if fewer of them cared — if more took YOUR advice — my life would be easier. I’d have more time on my hands, anyway.

    Reply
  6. Alex

    Here is what one soilder in Iraq has to say about Huckabee and MCcain and why they are wrong on the war. This is why we should vote for Dr. Paul.

    Reply
  7. TIM DOWDEN

    Fred is the only candidate without dirt or corruption in his background. Fred has always been consistent in everything he has said or done.
    Fred has the Right To Life endorsement and will get the NRA endorsement. The 2 biggest endorsements in the country! He will also be receiving many religious endorsements soon.
    Fred has experience in foreign relations and all areas of government.
    Fred has actual plans on paper that address all major issues facing our nation. The others do not or just recently did so. Funny how everyone single candidate keeps saying they agree with Fred! The real leader in the room!

    Reply
  8. Herb Brasher

    Well, here’s one person, for what one vote is worth, who cares about the State newspaper endorsements. I suspect there are many others. Everyone is flawed, and so are journalists, but few people have the overview that Brad and his colleagues have, simply by virtue of their access to information via personal interviews, etc. Furthermore, Brad has proven to be a person of character and integrity, even though I disagree with him at times (more often when it comes to foreign policy). I was recently in Charleston for a week. I missed not being able to get my daily paper.
    The best newspaper in the world is the Frankfurter Allgemeine. But for a small state like SC, The State does a reasonably good job (editorial board, that is).

    Reply
  9. Herb Brasher

    Well, I guess that last sentence didn’t make much sense. The size of the state (or population, to be more to the point), doesn’t have any relation to the kind of newspapers we have. What I was trying to say is that, when we moved here, I did not expect the kind of journalistic integrity that we have in Brad and his colleagues. Thus I appreciate, and generally always read, the endorsements, especially about issues that I just don’t have time to research properly, and need input on how to vote.
    Those who simply hold to a position, and don’t have to think about it, obviously don’t need input from such endorsements.
    A case in point is a 57 year old friend of mine (Vietnam vet, and psychologist) who was asked to run as a Republican for the Oregon state legislature, that is until the end of his interview with the townspeople. When he said that he could not give a blanket promise never to raise taxes, they dropped him in favor of a 21 year old neophyte who would do what they wanted. They didn’t want someone who would think about issues, they just wanted their ideology upheld.

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  10. SBenn

    Fred Thompson is the only candidate not caught by factcheck.org for misrepresentations or out in out lies in his speeches, debates or ads. What is the reason for that? It is because he thinks before he speaks and doesn’t change his position every few weeks to catch up with the polls. He is the true conservative in the race with the same values he has had his whole long political career. So answers not made just to please the people (smoothe words and fair speeches) do not come from his mouth. His comments are from his head and his heart. Why is the mass media so down on Fred then you may ask. That is easy. They searched his record and found no politcal skeletons in his closet. They know he can beat their Democrat hopeful no matter who it is and are scared to death of him! Hence their constant vague snides about laziness, no fire in the belly, can’t win, no money, etc. to turn us off. But we, the American people, know that Fred Thomspon is the best man for our leader. We want a leader void of scandals in his life! If you do not know this yet, take a few minutes and visit his website http://www.fred08.com and look at his biography, his issues and some of his speeches and you will see a man that can lead us back to a strong, safe nation both physically and economically!

    Reply
  11. bud

    We want a leader void of scandals in his life!
    -SBenn
    Then you should support Hillary Clinton. She has been scrutinized more than any other candidate in history and nothing has ever turned up. Don’t believe all the right-wing talk radio crap. They present inuendo as fact.

    Reply
  12. Richard L. Wolfe

    I cannot vote for Hillary until her memory improves. I DO NOT RECALL, I DO NOT RECALL, I DO NOT RECALL, 20 plus times. If, she did do something wrong she wouldn’t be able to remember.

    Reply
  13. Judy

    Duncan Hunter is the only candidate who has been a consistent conservative throughout his life. Of course, the media ignores him and I’m sure this newspaper will endorse the most popular, instead of the most qualified. Hopefully the voters will do their own research. Hunter did get third in the S.C. straw poll, so hopefully some people are getting his message.
    http://www.gohunter08.com

    Reply
  14. accughferfary

    I am trying to steal Money Waters mp3s from the Internet and all I can find is Pink Floyd mp3s and some fucking Bow Wow song. This is messed up.

    Reply
  15. ReodyRods

    Okay, this is a happy moment.
    I fixed the washing machine. I tried this a few weeks back and nothing worked right then (got it working though), but today the thing just fell apart again. I popped open the front cover, the motor was (this time) easy to remove, I super-glued the bottom pulley back together, and it was running again in 30 minutes. The squeak and rattle are gone. And it looks like this time they’ll stay gone!
    What’s your recent victory?

    Reply

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