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THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Kerry Wins the Paper Endorsement Derby, for What It's Worth

October 29, 2004|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's editorial board declined to back a candidate in the 2000 presidential election. But Wisconsin's largest newspaper weighed in Thursday with an endorsement of Democrat John F. Kerry.

In an editorial, the paper praised the Massachusetts senator as "a reasoned pragmatist with enough intellectual curiosity to lead him to prudent, decisive and well-thought-out action."

Of President Bush, the paper said: "The president is a decent man, yes. On the whole, however, he has been so wrong about so much in such a short time that accountability must kick in at some point."

As Tuesday's election approaches, polls show the contest too close to call and the race is agonizingly close in states like Wisconsin.

But Kerry is clearly ahead by one measure: newspaper endorsements. A tally by Editor & Publisher magazine showed the Democrat with 162 newspapers on his side as of Thursday and Bush with 129.

The papers that back Kerry reach 18.4 million readers; those that back Bush, 11.8 million.

Significantly, the trade journal found that 38 papers that backed Bush four years ago have jumped to endorse Kerry. Another 10 that previously endorsed Bush are now neutral. Several of these formerly pro-Bush newspapers are in battleground states.

Just six papers that endorsed Democratic nominee Al Gore in 2000 are now with Bush, according to the magazine. One is the Denver Post, an important paper in contested Colorado.

Analysts say the effect of such endorsements is debatable.

"It may mean absolutely nothing in the end," said Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher.

But he added: "If you think that newspaper endorsements mean anything, you'd have to say that Kerry has done extremely well."

While Democrats trumpeted the editorial support for Kerry, the Bush campaign downplayed the endorsement trend.

"Newspaper endorsements are more effective when readers are looking for information about a local candidate with whom they are unfamiliar," said Bush campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise.

"In a presidential election, when voters are inundated with 24-hour cable news, the Internet, talk radio, $500 million in ads, two conventions and four debates, they do not make decisions based on a newspaper endorsement."

In Florida, which Bush won by a mere 537 votes in 2000, most major newspapers are on record for Kerry.

Among them are the Orlando Sentinel and Bradenton Herald, which had supported Bush in 2000. The Tampa Tribune, formerly pro-Bush, is now neutral.

In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer also shifted from pro-Bush in 2000 to officially neutral. But Bush retained the support of the Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

In Pennsylvania, Bush nabbed the backing of the York Daily Record, which had endorsed Gore in 2000. But Kerry won over the Morning Call of Allentown -- formerly pro-Bush -- and was endorsed by two major pro-Gore papers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Patriot-News declined to endorse, a setback for Bush because the Harrisburg paper had backed him four years ago.

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