Gingrich and New Hampshire

November 28, 2011 - 8:09 AM
The New Hampshire Union-Leader (neé Manchester Union-Leader) endorsed Speaker Newt Gingrich for President in the Republican primary which will be held there on January 10, 2012.

This is no small deal for Gingrich because it is a legitimate endorsement from the daily newspaper of the largest city in the state.

As I tweeted yesterday (follow me at @richgalen): Newspaper endorsements are like polls & poker: Winners whoop & holler. Losers say "Shut up and deal."

Endorsements, polls and poker hands are generally not determinative but in each case it is better to win it than to lose it.

I don't read the Union-Leader with any regularity, but I had to tip my hat to the lead (spelled "lede" in news-speak) in the front page editorial written by publisher Joseph W. McQuaid: This newspaper endorses Newt Gingrich in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

In support of this simple, but strong, declarative sentence Mr. McQuaid encapsulated his reasoning by pointing to the Contract with America in 1994 and the resultant take-over of the U.S. House of Representatives in the elections that year; as well as "forging balanced budgets despite the challenge of dealing with a Democratic President."

"A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington," wrote McQuaid. "Newt Gingrich has actually done that, and in this race he offers the best shot of doing it again."

I don't know what the relationship between the paper and Gov. Mitt Romney has been over the years both during his term as Governor of neighboring Massachusetts and since.

Four years ago the paper endorsed Sen. John McCain over Romney, so it is not likely the Romney campaign had to toss thousands of direct mail pieces prepared for delivery this morning in anticipation of the Union-Leader's endorsement of its guy.

In 2008 the New Hampshire primary was held on January 8 - about the same date as this cycle's election. But the paper endorsed McCain in its December 2, 2007 editions - a week later than this year.

I only mention that because it was exactly during this period four years ago that Gov. Mike Huckabee began shooting up through the field on his way to winning the Iowa Caucuses on January 4, 2008 - about three weeks later in the cycle than Gingrich's dramatic rise this year.

It would be interesting to be able to rewind the tape and see which candidate the Union-Leader would have endorsed had Huckabee been as strong in the polls on December 2, 2007 as he was to become two weeks later.

In the end, it was McCain who got the Union-Leader's endorsement which helped him beat Romney in the primary 37 percent to 31 percent. Huckabee came in third with 11 percent of the votes.

McCain needed to win in New Hampshire. Newt does not. Newt needs to do well in Iowa (I still think Ron Paul is the favorite there) and win South Carolina but a second place finish in NH would be more than enough to continue his momentum.

A loss for Romney in New Hampshire, after having led there by double digits all cycle, would be very damaging and he would have to come back and win a convincing victory in Florida on January 31 (assuming he will not win in South Carolina on January 21) to regain his status as frontrunner and probable nominee.

New Hampshire's primary rules allow independents to vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries so it is more difficult to determine voters' intentions than in a closed primary where a voter has to be registered as an R or D and can only vote in that party's election.

Remember Newt's theory of how he expects to win the nomination (which was first explained to me by former Pennsylvania Congressman and long-time Gingrich ally Bob Walker):

-- Romney has a ceiling of about 25 percent of Republican primary voters.
-- Ron Paul will get between six and ten percent of those voters
-- That leaves 65 percent of the Republican available for Newt.

The World According to Newt is: He doesn't have to beat Romney, he just has to consolidate the non-Romney conservative votes.

The Union-Leader endorsement might help do that in dramatic fashion.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the text of the Union-Leader's endorsement and to the results of the 2008 New Hampshire primary. Also an interesting Mullfoto from my Western Mass trip last week and a Catchy Caption of the Day.