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.
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.
“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.”