Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich signs a copy of his book "A Nation Like No Other" as he and his wife Callista Gingrich greet supporters during a book signing event at Books-A-Million in Naples, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011.
This weekend’s big election news comes by way of New Hampshire, where the Manchester Union Leader, the state’s largest and most widely-read newspaper, endorsed Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination. This is great news for the former House Speaker, who has been catapaulted to the front of the pack by the GOP’s large cohort of anti-Romney voters. Because of its large influence—and New Hampshire’s distinction of holding the first Republican primary in the nation—the Union Leader’s endorsement is coveted by GOP presidential candidates. Between now and the primary, it’s safe to say that the Union Leader will devote its time to boosting Gingrich and tearing down his competitors.
On the face of it, this nod should cement Gingrich’s place in the top tier of Republican presidential candidates, and yield him more supporters within the conservative establishment. But the seriousness of Gingrich’s campaign is far from evident, and moreover, it’s important to note the extent to which the Union Leader hasn’t had a great record for choosing presidential nominees. It’s endorsement has gone to the eventual Republican nominee in only two of the last nine presidential elections—Ronald Reagan in 1980 and John McCain in 2008. In every other case, the Union Leader has given its nod to the conservative insurgent du jour: Pete Du Pont in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, and Steve Forbes in 2000. If the Union Leader held to form, it would have endorsed Mitt Romney as the conservative alternative to McCain (which is what he was in the last election cycle). But the newspaper has a particular dislike for the former Massachusetts governor, and rejected Romney for his opportunistic brand of conservatism.
At The New York Times, Nate Silver offers the narrow argument that Gingrich is likely to benefit from the Union Leader’s endorsement in new Hampshire proper. “[A]lthough only three of the six Republicans endorsed by The Union Leader during this period won their primary,” writes Silver, “all six outperformed their polling.” He offers his chart to illustrate the change:
With a consistent lead of more than 18 points, the New Hampshire presidential primary is still Mitt Romney’s to lose, even as Newt Gingrich gains strength in the state. This might change if the Gingrich campaign grows into something serious, but that remains a big “if.” More importantly, there’s still Romney’s immense resources, organizational strength, and deep well of support from Republican elites. Gingrich has a long, tough slog ahead of him if he wants the nomination, and the Union leader’s endorsement does nothing to change that fact.