Des Moines Register endorses Mitt Romney for president, becoming 6th major paper to flip from Obama in ’08

The Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney Saturday night for the presidency. Breaking from 40 years of Democratic endorsements, the Register cited the economy, job creation and an ability to work across party lines as reasons for their support of Romney.

“The former governor and business executive has a strong record of achievement in both the private and the public sectors,” the paper wrote in its endorsement. “He was an accomplished governor in a liberal state. He founded and ran a successful business that turned around failing companies.”

The endorsement breaks the pre-existing tie in endorsements from major papers in Swing States. The Register joins five other papers — including the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel — to flip its support from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012, giving the GOP nominee the lead in Swing State newspaper endorsements.

“Our support for Republican Mitt Romney may surprise, it may anger, it may please,” the Register’s Editorial Board acknowledges. “Opinions expressed by this board in no way affect news coverage, except to the extent than an endorsement itself becomes news.”

The New York Times underscored its editorial independence as well Saturday when it announced its endorsement of Obama, citing the economy, health care and women’s issues as key reasons behind its decision. The Times also backed Obama in 2008.

Why endorse?

Though many papers have ceased publishing candidate endorsements, Des Moines Register Vice President and Editor Rick Green said in a phone interview Friday that he believes it is still a fundamental duty of media outlets.

“I’m a firm believer that we’d be shirking our responsibilities as the Des Moines Register as well as an institution in Iowa if we took a pass on elections,” Green said. “I’m not sure I’d want to be the editor of a news organization to hold up your hands and say, ‘You know, we’re going to sit this one out.’ That’s not community leadership.”

Endorsements are part of the tradition and heart of the paper. The Register’s endorsements are about evenly split historically, with 12 going to Republicans and 11 to Democrats since 1912. However, prior to Romney, the last time the paper endorsed a Republican was Richard Nixon in 1972.

This shift within the Register’s endorsements mimics a national trend. New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blogger Micah Cohen found that Republicans won 84 percent of editorial page endorsements from 1972 to 1988. Bill Clinton broke the streak and signaled a national shift among papers toward endorsing more Democrats.

How the decision was made

Green said Saturday night by phone that the editorial board did not take into consideration its previous track record when making the decision. Instead, the board had a long discussion about where the economy is and what needs to happen in the next four years.

“It was really about, here’s the most pressing issue before the country and who do we think can provide some leadership and hopefully some solutions to get the economy jump started again,” Green said. “There was really no consideration of who’s the ‘R’ and who’s the ‘D’. It wasn’t about that. It was about the economy.”

Regardless of party, the Register’s endorsements and Iowa’s vote have closely aligned since 1988. This could be an indication of the weight of the endorsements, or rather a reflection of similar sentiments shared by the editorial board and voters.

Voters wait for their ballots on Sept. 27, 2012, the first day of early voting at the Polk County Election Office in Des Moines. Iowa is one of 32 states that allow early voting. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

“Our deciding factor is listening to what our readers have said, what we hear from sources, and what we see in polling,” Green said. “I know that there are lots of households around the country that have spent a lot of time debating the issues, looking at the candidates, and kicking their tires saying, ‘What’s best for me and my family, and what’s best for the country?’ We do the same thing.”

Why the endorsement matters

Recent history shows Iowa voting for the winning candidate in four of the last five presidential elections — the only exception being 2000, when the state voted for Al Gore, who won the popular vote.

The paper is no stranger to this year’s presidential candidates. The Register has followed Barack Obama since he first started campaigning in 2006, and Mitt Romney shortly after that as he was seeking the GOP nomination.

“We know these candidates extremely well,” Green said. “In some cases, we’ve supported the president over the last four years. In others, we’ve not.”

The wealth of information didn’t make the process any easier. It can be a daunting task trying to condense that much knowledge into a single decision, but the thoughtful debate that ensues is worth it, Green said.

“It can be intimidating but it’s incredibly exhilarating at the same time,” said Green. “Politics is in the DNA of the Des Moines Register, and we take that responsibility very, very seriously. We had vigorous debate, and that’s how it should be.”

Green, who called himself a political junkie and the rookie on the editorial board, said Friday that the economy trumped all other issues in this election and in the board’s consideration. Green joined the editorial board when he came to the Register in 2011.

Iowa is faring better than the rest of the nation, according to the most recent report from the Iowa Workforce Development. Iowa’s unemployment rate sat at 5.2 percent and the U.S. rate at 7.8, with a three-tenths of a percentage point drop for each since August.

A recent Pew study found that 93 percent of Romney voters considered the economy very important to their vote; only 83 percent of Obama voters did.

“At the end of the day, I know it was very thoughtful and deliberative and meaningful conversations we had with the editorial board that led us to make this endorsement,” Green says. “When the readers need us the most that’s when we’re at our best.”

Related: Obama releases transcript of off-the-record call with Des Moines Register

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  • Anonymous

    Supporting HATE SPEECH.

    Way to go. No wonder, ammo sales are at an all-time high.

  • Anonymous

    Massachusetts — Average of Four Recent Polls:

    Obama — 56 percent of vote
    Romney — former governor — 39.5 percent

  • Anonymous

    Supporting HATE SPEECH.

    Way to go. No wonder, ammo sales are at an all-time high.

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  • Ashley Taylor

    Romney thinks he can bombard me with commercials because I live in a
    swing state. Some of us are not morons, Mitt. There are a lot better
    candidates than Romney that deserve this nomination. I am writing in Ron
    Paul because I refuse to compromise my Integrity in the name of the
    greater good, and because I believe that Real Christians do not choose
    the “lesser of two evils.”

  • Anonymous

    “hate speech”? huh? one of the (many) things that bothers me about this campaign is how Mr. Romney gets away with repeatedly boasting about his lone term as governor of mass. when, in fact, it appears he has absoltuely NO chance of carrying mass. and is not even campaigning there. doesn’t the judgement of the people of mass. count for anything in assessing Mr. Romney’s supposed across-the-aisle leadership qualities as their gov.? he has long been running primarily as a businessman and NOT as a former gov. with a political record. hmmm. wonder why? i read and hear very few answers from the negligent media.

  • Anonymous


    ” .. And it’s not about Romney’s ‘magic underwear,’ (although that is quite humorous) for we all don our thaumaturgical undergarments. For me, ‘magic underwear’ is symbolic of all the things we are content to believe upon insufficient evidence ..”

    Poynter, why is this HATE-SPEECH allowed to be posted?

    Where’s the adult supervision?

    Sickening, disgusting, and ridiculous.

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  • Styvyn Larson

    I’ve long made the Des Moines Register a daily stop on my reading rounds, largely because of an ever-present political sensibility. With the reasoning behind this benighted decision, the Register risks undoing decades of balanced and fair political presentments.

    “Which candidate could forge the compromises in Congress to achieve these goals? When the question is framed in those terms, Mitt Romney emerges the stronger candidate.”

    The editorial staff of the Des Moines Register, by nature of this statement has fallen prey to one of the biggest attempted political manipulations in recent history, bringing to mind the Joseph Goebbels quotes, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

    One of the biggest travesties in American democracy in the last several years – running a close first to the democracy-busting SOTU decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – is the Republican (highly documented) plan to systematically, even diabolically, oppose EVERYTHING in Obama’s agenda with a blitzkrieg style of ‘block and blame,’ screw-the-American-people style of blatantly overt obstructionism for the sole purpose of regaining power in 2013.

    Indeed, my main criticism of the Obama administration, is focused on the first 4 months of the presidency, when they could have passed absolutely anything they chose to bring to the table. Did they do that? No, because Obama chose to try to build consensus with the other side, knowing full well that if the roles were reversed, there would be no attempts at consensus building. It was a foolishly squandered opportunity.

    In addition to the rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth obstructionism from the Republican side, there is the ever-apparent wasting of precious legislative time on divisive religion-based issues that make one seriously ponder if one side of Congress is still living in the 13-century. Do we really have room in Congress for superstition? Those that wish to infect laws and policy – and indeed people – with their very specific religious delusions, are really no different from the women-controlling theocrats of the Taliban. We should all be wary of these creeping, insidious attempts at establishing theocracy in an nation that arose out of enlightenment values.

    So, on the surface, this election may seem to be about the economy, but it is really about ‘magic underwear,’ which on a more fundamental and foundational level, matters more than the economy, jobs, security, etc. And it’s not about Romney’s ‘magic underwear,’ (although that is quite humorous) for we all don our thaumaturgical undergarments. For me, ‘magic underwear’ is symbolic of all the things we are content to believe upon insufficient evidence. While believing things upon insufficient evidence may be considered a virtue by some in certain areas, there’s a steep and ominous slippery slope in every direction. A Republican member of congress, during one moment may be talking about the biblical definition of marriage (which, if the intellectually bankrupt would actually read their holy texts, consists of 1 man + 1 or more women) and the next may be attempting to talk about a complex economic theory. Is the ‘magic underwear’ donned for both discussions or just the first?

    If we can’t tell ourselves from one moment to the next whether we’re wearing the magic or regular underwear, how can we determine which underwear our leaders are wearing from one moment to the next? With this decision, the Des Moines Register has magically soiled their underwear.

  • Anonymous

    And why shouldn’t they have switched?

    Their farm economy hasn’t ben better because of Barry, and certainly their manufacturing economy (like Deere & Co.) haven’t prospered because of anything he’s done…