Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy

at 11:56 AM ET, 09/12/2011

When the news broke this morning that former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty was endorsing former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney , one question was at the top of everyone’s mind: Where does this fit into the Fix’s Endorsement Hierarchy? (Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the first things most people thought of. But, it was the first thing that occurred to us.)


Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty discusses his endorsement of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a news conference Monday in North Charleston, S.C.. (Bruce Smith - AP)

For the uninitiated, the Fix Endorsement Hierarchy is an attempt to categorize and rank the various endorsements in the political world — from the helpful to the horrible. (And, yes, our endorsement hierarchy is the political equivalent of Bill Simmons’ (aka the Sports Guy) 13 levels of losing.)

So where does the Pawlenty for Romney endorsement fit?

At first glance the Pawlenty endorsement seems to fit most naturally in the “symbolic endorsement” category, the highest and most important slot on our hierarchy. (Scroll to the bottom of this page for the full endorsement hierarchy — and examples of each.)

After all, Pawlenty was long regarded as Romney’s main rival for the Republican presidential nomination and a leading critic of the former Massachusetts governor’s health care plan.

Pawlenty’s vote of confidence then could be read as providing a symbolic bounce for Romney — making it one of the rare truly important endorsements in the 2012 cycle.

But, that overlooks one very important thing. If Pawlenty was such a major player in the Republican race, he wouldn’t have dropped out of the contest long before even a single vote was cast.

Pawlenty was never able to generate genuine excitement behind his candidacy — people liked him but few loved him. Given that, it’s hard to attach too much symbolic power to his support for Romney.

Scanning the rest of our endorsement hierarchy, however, there wasn’t another obvious place to put it. And so, we are created a whole new category called the “national endorsement” to encompass just this sort of thing.

The national endorsement is, by our reckoning, the third most important sort of endorsements — ranking below the previously mentioned symbolic endorsement and the “in-state statewide endorsement”, which, theoretically, brings a tested political machine in a single critical state with it.

So why does it matter? For a few obvious reasons:

* Pawlenty had built up active organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida. Obviously not all of those people will port over to Romney — Pawlenty’s former New Hampshire state director is now working for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman , for example — but it does provide some level of additional access into corridors of power, organization and money.

* Pawlenty will be with Romney today in South Carolina and tonight in Florida at the Republican debate. He clearly wants to play an active role in the campaign and can be another semi high-profile surrogate for Romney as the race heats up. Pawlenty may well be tasked with trying to defend Romney’s record on health care against the attacks to come. After deriding it as “Obamneycare”earlier this year, Pawlenty said today that “Mitt Romney is 100 percent dedicated and committed to repealing Obamacare.” To win the nomination, Romney needs to make believers out of voters like he did out of Pawlenty.

* To the extent that there is an “establishment” candidate, Pawlenty’s endorsement of Romney solidifies the former Massachusetts governor’s claim to that title. Pawlenty was competing directly with Romney for establishment donors and activists; Romney will now have a strengthened hand to unify that bloc of votes behind his candidacy. (It’s a larger debate whether being the establishment candidate is a good or bad thing for Romney.)

There’s little question that any of the candidates left in the field would have been glad to have Pawlenty’s endorsement. But, like most endorsements, it’s easy to ascribe too much importance to it. Pawlenty can help Romney but his endorsement is something well short of a game-changer.

The Fix Endorsement Hierarchy (ranked in order of influence)

* The Symbolic Endorsement: Ted Kennedy backing Barack Obama during the 2008 primaries.

* The In-State Statewide Endorsement: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist throwing his support to John McCain just before the Sunshine State presidential primary in 2008.

* The National Endorsement: Pawlenty for Romney.

* The Celebrity Endorsement: Chuck Norris for Mike Huckabee in 2008.

* The Newspaper Endorsement: The Washington Post endorsing state Sen. Creigh Deeds in the 2009 Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary.

* Out-of-State Statewide Endorsement: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint endorsing former Florida state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Senate primary.

* The What Goes Around Comes Around Endorsement: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani endorsing former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the 2010 Florida Senate primary.

* The Obligatory Endorsement: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran endorsing McCain’s presidential bid in 2008.

* The “Me for Me” Endorsement: Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) endorsing Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak’s (D) Senate campaign.

* The Non-Endorsement Endorsement: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) passing on an endorsement of Sen. David Vitter’s (R) 2010 re-election bid.

* The Pariah Endorsement: Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) endorsing anyone.

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