The political world is abuzz with the news that the New Hampshire Union Leader, with its historically conservative editorial page, has bestowed its GOP primary endorsement on former House speaker Newt Gingrich. But how valuable really is the backing of the largest newspaper in the first-in-the-nation primary state to a presidential contender?
A look at the paper’s endorsements over the last 35 years suggests that while the initial announcement may grab a lot of headlines, the paper doesn’t have a great record for picking winners. Here is the list of the Union Leader’s last seven GOP primary endorsements:
1976 - Ronald Reagan
1980 - Ronald Reagan
1988 - Pete du Pont
1992 - Pat Buchanan
1996 - Pat Buchanan
2000 - Steve Forbes
2008 - John McCain
The newspaper picked the eventual GOP nominee just twice since 1976 — Ronald Reagan in 1980 and John McCain in 2008. Additionally, it only chose the winner of the New Hampshire GOP primary three times — Buchanan in 1996, in addition to Reagan and McCain — though Buchanan’s 1992 endorsement gave him a boost in his second-place finish against incumbent President George H.W. Bush.
Of course, the Union Leader in the past had a reputation for choosing longshot conservatives (case in point: former Delaware governor Pete du Pont in 1984). But with its 2008 pick of McCain — which is widely viewed as helping to turn the tide for McCain’s previously flagging campaign — and it’s latest endorsement of Gingrich suggests the paper has in recent years taken a more practical tack in making its selections.
Bottom line for Newt Gingrich: all the publicity generated certainly can’t hurt, and conservatives who aren’t sold on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney may take the former speaker more seriously as a contender.
And if it makes the Union Leader feel any better, former Sen. Judd Gregg — another of New Hampshire’s most sought-after endorsements — failed to pick a Granite State Republican primary winner in more than 20 years when he retired in 2010. But Gregg can take solace in the fact that some of his recent picks — including George W. Bush in 2000 and Sen. Bob Dole in 1996 — went on to win the nomination.