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Clinton Wins Key Endorsement

The influential Iowa newspaper said Clinton's experience "sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama, who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine president." (Pool Photo By Chris Gannon -- Getty Images)

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By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com staff writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was endorsed by the Des Moines Register last night, a much-needed victory for a front-runner who has stumbled in recent weeks.

The Register praised Clinton's "readiness" for the presidency, saying that it "sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama, who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine president."

Of her main rival, the paper wrote: "When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton. Yet, with his relative inexperience, it's hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead." Obama did, however, win the endorsement of the Boston Globe, which also was announced Saturday night.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won the Register's backing on the Republican side. He also was the Globe's pick among the GOP contenders.

While McCain's campaign is sure to receive a spate of good press from the endorsements, it is on the Democratic side where the Register endorsement really matters.

All three of the front-running candidates -- Clinton, Obama and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) -- met with the Register's editorial board several times and regularly had surrogates for their campaigns calling the board to make their case.

In the hours leading up to the announcement, which came at 9 p.m. Eastern time when the Register published its endorsement on its Web site, rumors flew about which direction the seven board members were leaning. Campaign operatives traded calls, e-mails and instant messages with reporters, seeking information. So highly anticipated was the news that the paper offered it via text message for those who lacked Internet access.

John Lapp, a Democratic media consultant who ran then-Rep. Richard A. Gephardt's (D-Mo.) Iowa presidential campaign in 2004 but now is not supporting any candidate, called the Register endorsement "the gold standard." He added: "The Register endorsement is a critical stamp that says 'we could see this person as president.' "

The Clinton endorsement comes at a critical moment in the fight for the Democratic nomination. Obama had seized the momentum from the former first lady in Iowa and most polling in the state shows the race a statistical dead heat among Obama, Clinton and Edwards.

"In a race this close, the Register endorsement is the most critical validator and probably the final one" before the caucus, Democratic operative Anita Dunn said.

For each of the three front-runners, winning Iowa has huge symbolic importance. For Obama, a victory would signal an end to the idea that Clinton is the inevitable Democratic nominee. For Edwards, a first-place finish in the caucus would prove that the nomination fight is a three-way affair. For Clinton, a win in Iowa would restore her aura of inevitability.

The paper's endorsement is important but not foolproof.

In 2004, Edwards was mired in single digits before the Register endorsed him.

He quickly became the hottest commodity in the race, rising to second place on caucus night. That showing transformed Edwards into Sen. John Kerry's (Mass.) main rival for the Democratic nomination, and, when that bid fell short, the one-term North Carolina senator joined the national ticket as Kerry's vice presidential nominee.

The paper's endorsement has not always proved so decisive. In 2000, the Register backed former Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.) in his challenge to the party's de facto incumbent, Vice President Al Gore. Gore crushed Bradley by 63 percent to 35 percent.

That mixed history was not on the mind of a clearly elated Clinton campaign, however.

"We are grateful to the editorial board and humbled by the confidence it has in Senator Clinton's ability to make change happen as president," said national campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle. "We're going to keep working as hard as we can to earn the support of people in Iowa."


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