Newspaper Endorsements At Odds with Polls

The leading papers in Iowa and New Hampshire are backing Klobuchar and Warren, respectively.

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The latest polls continue to show Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders pulling away from the crowded Democratic field. The latest ABC-WaPo survey, for example, has Biden at 32%, Sanders at 23%, followed distantly by Elizabeth Warren at 12%, Mike Blooomberg at 8%, Andrew Yang at 7%, Pete Buttigieg at 5%, and Amy Klobuchar at 3% among Democrats nationally.

But we’re about to see people actually voting, albeit in a bizarre an farcical fashion that gives outsized influence to tiny, demographically unrepresentative, Iowa and New Hampshire. And, thus, we must pay outsized attention to the preferences of a couple of families who own newspapers in tiny towns.

The Des Moines Register has come out in favor of Warren ( “Endorsement: Elizabeth Warren will push an unequal America in the right direction“)

Each of the remaining candidates campaigning across Iowa ahead of the caucuses could make a fine president. Each would be more inclusive and thoughtful than the current occupant of the White House. Each would treat truth as something that matters. Each would conduct foreign policy by coalition building rather than by whim and tweet.

The outstanding caliber of Democratic candidates makes it difficult to choose just one.

But ultimately Iowa caucusgoers need to do that. Who would make the best president at this point in the country’s history? At a time when the economic deck has become so stacked against working Americans that the gap between rich and poor is the highest in more than 50 years? At a time when a generation of war has stressed military families and sapped the treasury?

The senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts is not the radical some perceive her to be. She was a registered Republican until 1996. She is a capitalist. “I love what markets can do,” she said. “They are what make us rich, they are what create opportunity.”

But she wants fair markets, with rules and accountability. She wants a government that works for people, not one corrupted by cash.

A former Harvard professor and expert in bankruptcy law, she helped set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency was specifically designed to prevent a repeat of the banking crisis and look out for little guys swindled by lenders and credit card companies.

She believes government should actively work to prevent and respond to abusive practices that jeopardize individuals and the country’s economy.

Warren doesn’t measure the health of the economy by looking at the stock market or an unemployment rate that doesn’t count the longtime jobless or chronically underemployed. She measures it by how working families are doing. Many are not doing well, and Warren seeks major reforms to help them.

This board could not endorse the wholesale overhaul of corporate governance or cumulative levels of taxation she proposes. While the board has long supported single-payer health insurance, it believes a gradual transition is the more realistic approach. But Warren is pushing in the right direction.

There’s quite a lot more but one gets the idea. Really, it boils down to “her heart’s in the right place.”

The natural reaction to any of these endorsements—aside from wondering why we should care what the owner of a newspaper says—is Why not other candidates who share some of the same qualities? Unusually, the Register actually tries to answer that question in a separate piece titled “Endorsement: What intrigued us and what gave us pause about others in the field.” It’s thorough, including even candidates I forgot were still running.

As to the even-more-experienced Biden, they lament, “His ideas lean more toward incremental improvements on the Obama years than the bold agenda the times demand.”

As to Sanders, who’s vastly out-polling Warren and shares a similar agenda, “He has routinely opposed trade agreements supported by Iowa’s farmers and manufacturers. His rhetoric is so anti-interventionist that one wonders whether he would recognize times when military action is justified as a deterrent.”

More intriguing perhaps is the New Hampshire Union Leader, who comes out in favor of the last-place candidate in the above-cited WaPo poll. (“Union Leader primary endorsement: Amy Klobuchar“)

If you are an independent or Democrat, however, yours may be one of the most consequential votes ever cast in a New Hampshire Primary. If there is to be any realistic challenge to Trump in November, the Democratic nominee needs to have a proven and substantial record of accomplishment across party lines, an ability to unite rather than divide, and the strength and stamina to go toe-to-toe with the Tweeter-in-Chief.

That would be U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is sharp and witty, with a commanding understanding of both history and the inner workings of Capitol Hill.

Trump doesn’t want to face her. He is hoping for Bernie, Biden, Buttigieg or Warren. Each has weaknesses, whether of age, inexperience or a far-left agenda that thrills some liberals but is ripe for exploitation in a mainstream general election.

Sen. Klobuchar has none of those weaknesses and the incumbent needs to be presented a challenger who is not easily dismissed. Her work in Washington has led to the passage of an impressive number of substantive bills, even as the partisan divide has deepened. In 2018 she won reelection, taking back dozens of conservative-leaning counties that had gone for Trump two years earlier, when Hillary Clinton barely beat him in Minnesota. In fact, Sen. Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, has never lost an election.

The “never lost an election” trope is silly, given that she (and Warren, who can make the same claim) faced radically narrower constituencies in her previous contests. But the rest of the argument is a solid one. She’s neither geriatric nor a kid. She’s a moderate. And she does indeed have a record of legislative accomplishment.

Now, I happen to count the lack of executive experience as a major weakness. I’d prefer a former Vice President or governor, all things being equal. But Klobuchar is more tested than Barack Obama was in 2008.

Still, the fact that she’s trailing the likes of Buttigieg and even Yang says something. For whatever reason, despite being in all of the debates, she has failed to get any traction with the Democratic nominating electorate. I suppose it’s possible that she’ll get traction in Iowa and New Hampshire. But it seems quite unlikely.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teve says:

    They’re endorsing Warren because she’s the best candidate.

  2. Moosebreath says:

    In Klobuchar’s case, a fairer comment on her electability is that she ran far ahead of other Democrats running state-wide in the same year (e.g., in 2012, she won by 35% while Obama won by 8%, and in 2018 she won by 24% while the Democrats won the governorship by 12%).

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Teve: What does that even mean? She can’t be that fantastic a candidate, given that she’s not only a distant third in the national polls but is performing far below where she was earlier in the race.

    @Moosebreath: That’s fair, although I’m dubious of such comparisons. I don’t know enough about Klobuchar’s opponents, much less the governor’s race. But it’s quite possible she simply faced worse opponents. While certainly a flawed candidate, Mitt Romney was fundamentally a decent and likable guy and a competent and moderate alternative to Obama.

  4. CSK says:

    Klobuchar could be trailing so badly because all those stories in the NYTimes and elsewhere about her abusing her staff didn’t sit well with voters.

  5. Scott F. says:

    From the Register endorsement on Warren:

    She believes access to health care is a human right.
    She would make climate change a top priority and use her executive power to roll back Trump administration policies that prop up fossil fuels.
    She says corporations should have less Washington influence, children should be protected from gun violence, child care should be affordable, immigrants deserve compassion, mass incarceration should end and the wealthy should pay more in taxes.
    Those ideas are not radical. They are right…

    From that you get “Really, it boils down to “her heart’s in the right place.”? Dismissive much, James?

    More accurately, the Register editors are saying that these times call for a candidate who will take a fighting stance based on a bold agenda and Warren is that candidate while Biden is not. That’s a position drawn from facts and a clear-eyed assessment of this moment for the country, not from sentiment. The editors are correct to make their endorsement on their basis and not on the polls.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Scott F.: But almost every single Democrat in the field holds those positions. (And, to the extent my summary is dismissive, I mean it to be dismissive of their argument, not her capabilities. I have some issues with her but she’s formidable in vies with Biden as my favorite of the plausible nominees, if for differing reasons.)

  7. gVOR08 says:

    LGM rightly points out that

    The outstanding caliber of Democratic candidates makes it difficult to choose just one.

    followed by a clear endorsement of Warren throws a lot of well deserved shade at FTFNYT.

  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Scott F.: I don’t know, “her hearts in the right place” seems a good way to frame my support for Warren. I don’t actually agree with the details of a lot of her proposals, but that’s the details, not the policy goal. “We need structural change” is something I strongly, strongly endorse.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Oddly, that’s pretty much where I am on her.

    I think her many of her policy proposals are pie-in-the-sky and simply won’t happen. I think some of them are just bad ideas for a host of reasons. BUT 1) she has put in a lot of thought and work–and brought together a lot of other bright, hardworking people—in fleshing out the ideas and 2) she’s seemingly motivated by making life better for ordinary folks. Given that our legislative process makes it almost a certainty that her policy ideas will be watered down into something I’d probably like, my policy concerns are ameliorated somewhat.

    I prefer 2016 Biden by quite a bit but am not sure 2020 Biden is up to the task. I think he’s less susceptible to attacks on some flanks than she is and therefore more likely to appeal to genuinely persuadable voters, if such still exist.

  10. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner: As you note:

    As to the even-more-experienced Biden, they lament, “His ideas lean more toward incremental improvements on the Obama years than the bold agenda the times demand.”

    This is why they endorse Warren over Biden. They are saying (and I agree) that Biden’s call back to the Obama years is too modest a response to the corruptive damage being done by Trumpism.

    Look, I like Biden a great deal. I’d work for his election and vote for him over Trump in a heartbeat. And were he to choose a running mate who showed they understood that today’s Republicans are not to be trusted, I would even vote for him enthusiastically.

    But, Warren is the one who has made corruption the focus of her campaign. Our corrupted system (the government, corporations, and media all corrupted to some extent by the gross imbalance of financial power in this country) must be taken head on. Considering that any proposed policies would have to get through the currently dysfunctional legislative branch, the candidate’s worldview and sense of the times is frankly more important this election cycle than any laws they would pass.

  11. Scott F. says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I agree and I see from subsequent posts that James is closer to me in his thoughts than my comment took him to be.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    she’s seemingly motivated by making life better for ordinary folks.

    If Warren is faking it, she’s doing a good job. The CFPB shows us her values and how she would implement them, and it is one of the better things to come out of Washington in decades.

    I suspect that what separates her from the rest of the field for the De Moines Register is that they want someone from the progressive wing, and they don’t want Bernie Sanders.

    That and the CFPB. This is a field that is lacking in executive experience, other than Biden. And Biden was a VP rather than a governor. It’s hard to tell what any of these people would end up doing, and what their first priorities would be. Warren is probably the clearest.

  13. Gustopher says:

    As to the even-more-experienced Biden, they lament, “His ideas lean more toward incremental improvements on the Obama years than the bold agenda the times demand.”

    The times may demand it, but I’m not sure the voters will.

    I’m not deeply worried about that, as I think the nominating process stands a very good chance of picking well — the Democratic Primary electorate is to the left of the non-Republican General Election electorate, but not too far to the left.

  14. Teve says:


    If Warren is faking it, she’s doing a good job. The CFPB shows us her values and how she would implement them, and it is one of the better things to come out of Washington in decades.

    I’ve never had an account with Wells Fargo. Yet Wells Fargo bought a bank I used to have an account with in North Carolina, got my info out of a database, signed me up for financial products, found my new address in Florida and started sending me bills for those products, and the CFPB is the only reason they didn’t succeed.

    Go Liz, and fuck republicans, 2020!

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    I would love some actual evidence that the voters are looking for big, progressive changes. Ask union members if they want to give up their health plans and go on Medicare. Ask voters if they’ll agree to pick up the tax tab if a tax on wealth is shot down by SCOTUS. Do they want to pay off the student debt of trust fund kids? Do they want to pay for daycare for undocumented immigrants?

    The nation stepped in dog shit. Does the nation want to immediately go on a run? Or does the nation want to clean the dog shit off their shoes first, then take a nice walk? Opinion on the Left is split which means that even if a Sanders or Warren is elected and by some miracle we take back the Senate there will be intra-party opposition to the prog agenda, which will doom it.

    It gives me no joy to say that in reality we are either getting Grand Theft Trump 2, or we’re getting Obama 3. We’ll be damned lucky to get that. I love Warren, I have some grudging respect for Bernie and I think Buttigieg is the smartest guy in the field, but I’m coming around to @EddieinCA’s position that it needs to be Biden.

  16. Matt says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Ask union members if they want to give up their health plans and go on Medicare.

    Well considering barely 10% of the workforce is in an Union I care less about their opinion then I do the other 90% who aren’t in a Union…

    Unions? Not so hot on the notion because it removes one of their “features”.

    Once you explain to the actual rank and file members of the Union what Medicare for All does they sure love it. “Wait I can get the better paying job AND keep my healthcare??”. Well at least in my limited experience because as I said few workers are still in a union these days..

  17. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    This all day. Most of what needs to be fixed in this country does not require “big structural change”. It requires political will and talented people put in leadership positions. Amateurs focus on systems. Pros start with talent…..then address system shortfalls. Obamacare was a competent response to the coverage side of the health care equation… when is a Democrat going to address the obvious price gouging in provider costs? Technology is lowering the costs to produce a unit of nearly everything. Why is it not lowering the cost medical services?

    Warren would be a good cabinet secretary.

  18. Jax says:

    @Jim Brown 32: That is exactly why we will never have true “healthcare reform” until someone is willing to stand up to the lobbying army and address the COST of healthcare. There’s no good reason “standard procedures” should vary so much from hospital to hospital, doctor to doctor, surgeon to surgeon.

  19. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The next Democratic administration is going to be penned in by the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and any Republican majority. So, it almost doesn’t matter except for executive power — and I will trust Warren with that more than Biden. CFPB vs. foreclosure “reform”.

    I also think we need someone who can speak a more economic populist message — part of Trump’s appeal in 2016 was an economic populism in his rhetoric (which he forgot about before he was sworn in in 2017).

  20. wr says:

    @Jim Brown 32: “Amateurs focus on systems. Pros start with talent…..”

    That’s one of those silly manly American aphorisms. Smart politicians understand that talent only lasts as long as the talented person is in place, while a system that is designed correctly can keep running even without a super-talent at the helm.

    “Pros start with talent” is basically another iteration of “only I can fix it.” And I think we’ve had enough of that…