Post chooses Deeds over McDonnell: Impact of an endorsement

Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, left, raised $3.5 million last month, and Republican Robert F. McDonnell raised $3.8 million. McDonnell has had more money on hand, though, mainly because Deeds was in a three-way primary.
Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, left, raised $3.5 million last month, and Republican Robert F. McDonnell raised $3.8 million. McDonnell has had more money on hand, though, mainly because Deeds was in a three-way primary. (Steve Helber - AP)
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Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Editorial Writer and Board Member
Wednesday, October 21, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post editorial writer and board member Lee Hockstader Lee Hockstader was online Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the paper's endorsement of Creigh Deeds for governor of Virginia, the impact of such an endorsement and public reaction.

Mr. Deeds for Governor (The Washington Post, Oct. 18)

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Lee Hockstader:

Good morning. This is Lee Hockstader of The Post's editorial board. We're going to be discussing our endorsement of Sen. Creigh Deeds in the Virginia gubernatorial race. I'm looking forward to a lively discussion. Fire away.

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Herndon, Va.: The Post tried to play it cagey and act as if they were looking at all of the facts before choosing but, really, is anybody honestly surprised that the Post is endorsing the Democtratic nominee for governor?

Lee Hockstader:

I can't say whether anyone was surprised. I can tell you that The Post has endorsed many Republicans runming for office at all levels in Virginia and Maryland. A recent list includes Bob Ehrlich, candidate for governor in Maryland in 2006; Tom Davis, the former Northern Virginia congressman; Frank Wolf, a current Northern Virginia congressman, Connie Morella, a former Maryland congresswoman, and John Warner, the now-retired U.S. Senator from Virginia.

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Washington, D.C.: I see Deeds is running some ads touting the endorsement. Is McDonnell talking about it all? I thought I heard someone (perhaps a McDonnell backer) say Deeds and the Post editorial staff are the only ones who think raising taxes is a good idea. Disingenuous as it may be, it could also be an political ad that might work.

Lee Hockstader:

McDonnell has also made use Washington Post news stories and editorials in his ads and press releases. And The Post is not alone in calling for taxes to deal with the state's critical transportation needs. A coalition of 17 Northern Virginia busienss groups, representing most of the major employers in the region, has also called for new taxes to deal with transportation. In addition, a poll released this week showed that 6 in 10 Northern Virginians would support a regional tax dedicated to transportation, and 53 percent support a 10-cent per gallon increase in the gas tax.

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Better than the Redskins?: What's the Post's won-loss record? What is the number of times you endorse a candidate that he/she actually is the winner?

Lee Hockstader: I honestly haven't kept track.

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Falls Church, Va.: I know that the Post chooses not to report polls other than its own, but other polls are showing McDonnell now leading Deeds by 12 or even 19 points. It looks like your endorsement has driven independent voters away from Deeds. Do you regret having issued it, seeing what harm it's done?

Lee Hockstader: We make our endorsements based on our best, honest assessment of the qualities and policies embodied by the candidates. We make no assumptions about the effect the endorsement might or might not have.

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Kensington, Md.: I am curious about when the practice of endorsing candidates began. Regardless, I think in this age, people have access to so much information that a newspaper endorsement is totally pointless. From a business perspective for you, any endorsement is counterproductive because those who agree with you will be indifferent and those who disagree will feel alienated.

Nobody needs or is asking for newspaper endorsements anymore (besides perhaps the candidates) and it on net erodes your paper's credibility. I believe the public actually has a stake in their preferred paper's quality, and consequently we really, really prefer if you cease ALL candidate endorsements. Please, just stop; it's silly. Take the lead and other newspapers may follow suit.

Lee Hockstader:

Newspapers have been endorsing candidates for many, many years. I agree that readers have a multitude of options to turn to when formulating their opinions. We feel there is value in The Post's endorsing candidates. It's a real-world choice that many of our readers are honestly stuggling with. We don't expect people to take our endorsement as the gospel, or make their decision based on it exclusively. It is a reflection of our best reporting and judgment. I might add that we understand it makes things difficult for the news side of the paper, and some of our colleagues over there wish we did not endorse.

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Fairfax, Va.: While the Post's endorsement may be valuable in the primaries, I question why you continue to issue them in general elections. Except in the most minor of races, the endorsement is invariably of a Democrat, so it's the equivalent of the DNC endorsing a candidate. What is the value in knowing that yet again, the Post chooses the candidate from the same party yet again?

Additionally, given that the reasons for the Post's endorsements typically skew sharply liberal (higher taxes, less immigration enforcement), do you worry that your endorsement actually hurts the candidate among moderate voters, particularly in Virginia?

Lee Hockstader: Again, The Post has endorsed both Democrats and Republicans at all levels in Virginia and Maryland -- in both primaries and general elections. In some cases, it may help a candidate; in other cases the effect may be negligible. We don't poll on that effect and as far as I know nobody else does either.

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Alexandria, Va.: In the past, the editorial board has deplored negative campaigning. It has deplored the use of social issues as "wedge" issues that divide the electorate. Deeds ran a campaign in which sharply negative ads on social wedge issues far outweighed any attempt to put across a positive message. The Post editorial board let this slide by without criticism. Can we conclude that negative campaigning is not really a serious issue to you but simply a political cudgel to be used against disfavored candidates?

Lee Hockstader:

I think both candidates in this race have used negative campaign ads; I can't remember many statewide races where that hasn't been the case. I think both have distorted the other's positions. We're not happy about that, but it's par for the course. We generally leave it to the news side of the paper to fact check each side's advertising. In our editorials we do try to build a case based on which candidate's policies we think make sense for Virginia.

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Republican endorsements: Your comments about Wolf and Davis are really misleading as many of these elections were either unopposed, or with no real backing from the DNC. The elections were never in doubt. Has the Post ever endorsed a Republican for president? Almost every closely contested race, with the exception of the Maryland governor's race seems to endorse a Democrat. If the Post wants to only endorse liberal and on occasion very moderate Republicans, so be it, but at least be honest about the bias toward liberal views.

Lee Hockstader: Well, that's not really true. Frank Wolf has had some very touch races. We endorsed Connie Morella and she lost to Chris Van Hollen. We endorsed John Warner in his race against Mark Warner, who was was not exactly a slouch in the 1996 elections.

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Greenwood, Va.: The Post's "reporting" on the Va Gov race has been anything but "reporting." Editorials are one thing, but reporting is another.

You personally wrote an article calling Sheila Johnson's indiscretion McDonnell's "macaca" moment when he had nothing to do with it.

Also, I notified the Post Ombudsman that the article about the thesis was accompanied by a headline that the Va. Gov. race was "erupting" and the article was accompanied by an onslaught of viewer comments (far above normal in volume and frequency) which I accused of being NOW members. I also accused the Post of orchestrating and/or coordinating the article/headline and the NOW member comment onslaught.

Any comments on either of these items?

washingtonpost.com: Sheila Johnson's Macaca Moment (Video Ad) (PostPartisan, Oct. 8)

Lee Hockstader: In the Post Partisan piece you refer to, I said it was Sheila Johnson's "macaca moment," not Bob McDonnell's. As one of the richest people in America, and one who has put herself forward as a public figure involved in this campaign, I felt it was fair to examine how she comported herself, and the language she used.

By contrast, I think Bob McDonnell has generally maintained a sense of dignity and civility in this race and in public office.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Should the newspapers be engaged in the endorsement of candidates? The WaPo has written very critical reports on Deeds's opponent and when the editorial board also endorses Deeds, for the average reader, the line between news pages and editorial pages is blurred. When the data already shows that the vast majority of reporters support the left, why should the reader believe the objectivity of the news after seeing the endorsement of the democratic candidates as well?

Lee Hockstader:

At the risk of repeating myself, The Post has endorsed both Republican and Democratic candidates. We make our decisions just as many voters do -- after carefully weighing each candidate's policies and proposals, and checking them against the challenges facing the state and the political realities of the moment.

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Annandale, Va.: One of my favorite Mark Twain stories is Journalism in Old Tennessee or something like that.

He subs for an editor and is told to pistol whip one guy, beat up somebody else, etc. Instead everything happens to him.

A lot of papers have been over the top partisan over the years and not just on the editorial page. I think the Post does a good job of separating the two. The biggest problem on news side is articles that are really analysis instead of news and not labeled as such.

Lee Hockstader:

Appreciate the comment, and I think it's a fair point you raise about analysis creeping into the news pages.

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Falls Church, Va.: You say you don't try to take into account what effect the endorsement might have, but earlier this year, you objected when Moran tried to use your endorsement of Deeds against him in the primary. So your objective is certainly to help the candidate you want, isn't it?

Lee Hockstader:

Hmmm, not sure what you're referring to in terms of our "objection" to Moran using our endorsement of Deeds. However, I was away for a few months and missed the primaries, so it's possible I missed the event you refer to.

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Manassas, Va.: How many members of your editorial board live in Virginia? How many employees do you have who work full-time in Virginia? How much in taxes do you pay to Virginia?

I'm asking these questions because it is useful to know whether those who make pronoucements on canidates will have to live under their reign?

Lee Hockstader: Most of the editorial board members live in D.C. and Maryland. Both Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, and I spent years as young reporters covering local and state politics and development in Virginia. At The Post generally, there are hundreds of employees, including on the news side, who live and pay taxes in Virginia.

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Washington, DC: No longer a Virginian, but still care about what happens there. Deeds is still a mystery to me - I haven't read your editorial yet - but McDonnell's ads seen dishonest. One of them strings items together, including things from the Post in a way that seems to say something it really doesn't. While studying the two candidates, did anyone determine how many sexual predators were prosecuted under a bill "passed" by McDonnell (does the General Assembly know about this?) and how many women appointed by McDonnell prosecuted such cases. As a woman and an attorney,I doubt there were many such cases and I find this ad offensive pandering.

washingtonpost.com: Mr. Deeds for Governor (Post, Nov. 18)

Lee Hockstader:

Interesting question. The news side, whose resources are much greater than the editorial board's, has done most of the fact checking of the candidates' ads. However, both candidates have made extensive use of quotations lifted from Post editorials and news stories.

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Fairfax County, Va.: I changed my vote from Brian Moran to Creigh Deeds the night before the primary election because of your primary endorsement. If you had simply endorsed Deeds, MacAuliffe or Moran, that alone would not have mattered to me at all. What made the difference was the actual logic, reasoning, and evidence of your written endorsement. You pointed out things about each candidate that I had known but not thought about in the same way. It was very persuasive.

Your general election endorsement of Deeds is also very effective because you spell out, point by point, the reasons for your endorsement. Again, a little thumb's up or thumb's down from the Post would be meaningless to me. It's the arguments you make, which I can then consider for myself, that are powerful, and I would argue, irrefutable in this case. I hope you keep writing endorsements clearly and effectively in this vein.

Lee Hockstader: Thanks. We don't pretend that the candidates we endorse are perfect. Along with voters, we're trying to figure out whose views make sense for Virginia. In the governor's race, transportation has obviously been at the top of the agenda for many voters, particularly in Northern Virginia. Having looked very carefully at both candidates' positions on transportation, we concluded that Bob McDonnell's are simply not credible. Creigh Deeds's approach, which does include higher taxes, makes sense. Without higher taxes, the chances are nil of solving a transportation deficit in excess of $100 billion over the next 20 years.

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Fairfax County, Va.: It does look like all the "intensity" in this race is on the Republican side, judging from the cranky comments so far. I just wish Republican intensity wasn't always so negative.

I liked both the primary and general election endorsements because they were rare examples of thoughtfully argued positions that marshalled actual facts, drew general conclusions, and made a logical case. The primary endorsement changed my vote for that reason. Partisans on both sides will ignore all of the above and just go for the illiterate drive-by version (who'd they endorse?) but for voters actually making a decision, laying out your logic this way is hugely helpful. Readers can then follow your thinking and decide whether or not they agree with it.

Lee Hockstader:

Thanks.

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Arlington, Va.: I understand the Post's position on endorsing a candidate, and how this decision is made independently of the newsroom. My problem, and where it appears the post bias truly comes out is when I see "fluff' articles like the one written by Amy Gardner without a similar one written for McDonnell. Its hard to take the Post's claim that the endorsement isn't paper wide, when the newsroom puts out article like the one I mentioned above. I wish the newsroom would either stay away from these pieces, or show us who is lobbying from both sides of the aisle.

Lee Hockstader: I have nothing to do with the news side's coverage of the race. However, I do happen to think that Amy Gardner, along with the other reporters covering the campaign, has written tough, penetrating and informative pieces in the course of her coverage.

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Falls Church, Va.: Just FYI, the "objection" was a follow-up editorial chiding Moran for using the Post's endorsement of Deeds to attack Deeds.

Lee Hockstader:

Thanks. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't see that.

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Presidental endorsement: You didn't answer an earlier question. Has the Post ever endorsed a Republican for president and if so when? A simple yes or no would be great.

Lee Hockstader: There have been some years when we have made no endorsement in presidential elections. I am not the in-house historian, but I don't think we've endorsed a Republican for president.

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Washington, D.C.: Given that most people think the Post endorsement was the main reason Deeds won the primary, will there be any consideration moving forward to not endorsing since the decision can still have such a large impact on the election?

Lee Hockstader: The Post will continue to make endorsements in local and state races. We make no assumptions or predictions about what effect the endorsements may have.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Did the fact that Dan Snyder, arguably the most hated person in the D.C. area, donated $50,000 to McDonnell influence your decision?

Lee Hockstader: I probably should have known that, but I didn't until I read your question.

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Re: Gardner: Can you honestly read the article that says Clinton endorses Deeds as hard hitting? I can understand there is a "Firewall" between the news and editorial staff, but can you at least recognize that a former democratic president endorsing a Democrat for governor is hardly earth shattering news.

washingtonpost.com: Clinton: 'Governor Deeds' is 'the best choice' (Post, Oct. 20)

Lee Hockstader: As with any coverage of a political campaign, it's useful to read a reporter's, and a newspaper's, work in its totality. Judging by a single article among dozens isn't particularly helpful.

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Issues Question: Wow, lots of GOP anger at the Post today. IMHO, anyone who thinks you all are a "lefty rag" or whatever hasn't been paying attention.

That said, in some ways I wish you were more of a lefty rag. There's one troubling aspect of McDonnell's campaign to me that I don't feel anyone has explored -- his "transportation plan," isn't one. He has this whole commercial where he outlines his "plan:"

1. Widen 66 - which, IIRC, can't happen because Arlington gets the final say.

2. HOT Lanes - Already Happening

3. Metro to Dulles - Already Happening

Is that really a plan at all? Two things that are already happening, and one that will never happen? And he wants to pay for it by selling the Liquor stores, has anyone explored the economic feasability of that one?

Lee Hockstader:

Glad you raised Bob McDonnell's proposal to privatize hard liquor sales. That's the biggest single chunk of his plan to raise new money for transportation. He predicts it would yield $500 million. I've looked at this closely and talked to a lot of experts. Not only is there no source for the $500 million figure Mr. McDonnell uses -- the number is invented from thin air -- but there's also a real question about whether the state would actually lose money on an ongoing basis as a result of privatization.

Privatizing liquor sales may make sense on its own terms, but it's not a very promising way to build roads.

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Manassas, Va.: What is the process for making an endorsement? Did you interview the candidates? Those who have worked with and against them? Where there any "make or break" issues?

Lee Hockstader: Thanks for that question. Yes, we interviewed all the statewide candidates in person. Some of us also sat down for separate meetings over meals with several of them. And of course we examine their statements, web sites and position papers carefully. Finally, we discuss each statewide race in the editorial board.

As for a make or beak issue, there wasn't just one . . . but as I've suggested, the state faces a real crisis in transportation funding, which I think is important particularly to many Northern Virginians.

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Bethesda, Md.: It looks like you received several comments questioning the value of doing endorsements, as well worrying about their obscuring the objectivity of the newsroom. Maybe rather than defaulting to defending the edorsements, you should seriously consider dropping them.

I once wrote a letter to your ombudsman complaining about the Post's (and papers in general) seeming to ignore good, constructive advice from its readers. That includes basic facts and subject knowledge as well as suggestions on editorial content. He agreed --you guys should listen more, especially considering the high average level of education of your readership . I think we would like to see a better paper.

Lee Hockstader:

Some readers like the endorsements; others don't. I know that some newspapers have dropped editorial endorsements. We will continue to endorse candidates, as as expression of the values and best judgments of the newspaper and, we hope, as a service to readers who are also honestly trying to parse the pros and cons of candidate and complex issues.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: You keep mentioning that the Post has endorsed both Republican and Democrat candidates, but let's be honest, there's really no comparison. I'd love to see the numbers on Democrat endorsements vs. Republican endorsements over the last 20 years. I'd be willing to bet the numbers would show 90 percent Democrat endorsements (at least).

Lee Hockstader:

I think that's not correct, especially if you look at the most prominent (statewide and Congressional) races in recent years.

We're not attempting 50-50 parity in our endorsements. We're trying to pick the candidates who seem to us to be the best public servants -- the brightest, most honest, most thoughtful, and most realistic about the challenges they will face in office.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for bringing up the issues mentioned in the editorial. I haven't decided who I will vote for but I have new interest in Deeds. I hope McDonnell will respond to the issues you have brought up. With all of the negative ads and shouting, it's nice to see a well-thought out opinion. Please feel free to post another bias-related comment instead of mine. I'll sit here quietly.

Lee Hockstader: Thanks.

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Northern Virginia: Clinton didn't just endorse Deeds, he appeared with him. When McCain appeared with McDonnell this weekend, that was news, too, and I read about it in the Post online. Since it was not local, I don't know if it made the print edition- -it may have. You would have done a bad job as a local paper not to report Clinton's appearance.

I hope newspapers aren't intimidated out of covering actual news by people who see everything as relative and nothing as actual reported fact. The facts on the ground: McCain appeared. Clinton appeared. Reporters wrote about each and gave a sense of the event, what went as planned (or not), and what was said. The reality-based community still likes this kind of reporting. Please tell the reporters to keep it up.

Lee Hockstader:

We're not intimidated in the slightest.

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Franconia, Va.: I get the impression when Creigh Deeds appears on Mark Plotkin on WTOP that Plotkin really likes him as a person and fellow policy wonk (similar to how Plotkin obviously feels about Tom Davis and some other Repubs). Does Deeds have a knack for one-on-one and small group communication? I'm picturing him coming across quite well in talking privately with a newspaper editorial board. And would that influence you, if so?

Lee Hockstader: Can't speak for Mark, though he's a pal of mine and I like his show. I think Creigh Deeds's colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans, regard him as a pretty likeable and genuine guy. So is McDonnell, for that matter.

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Lee Hockstader: Many thanks to all for the great questions. Remember to vote on Nov. 3!

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