The Los Angeles Times editorial board on Friday threw its backing behind Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and Sen. John McCain in the Republican race, ending a 36-year presidential endorsement hiatus.
The endorsements come just days before California joins 23 other states in Tuesday's coast-to-coast lineup of nominating contests in races that remain intensely competitive.
The endorsements -- to be published Sunday -- were posted online at 1:30 p.m. Friday. Though the board "strongly endorsed" Obama, its backing of McCain was more nuanced, citing disagreements with him over such issues as the war in Iraq, gay rights and abortion.
But it lauded the Arizona senator and Vietnam War hero for his approach to immigration reform, his opposition to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the use of torture, and for his overall approach to foreign affairs.
"Those are positions that should impress voters across the political spectrum; indeed, part of the argument for McCain's candidacy, as for Barack Obama's on the Democratic ballot, is its appeal across the center," the editorial said.
In backing Obama, The Times editorial said the freshman senator from Illinois "distinguishes himself as an inspiring leader who cuts through typical internecine campaign bickering and appeals to Americans long weary of divisive and destructive politics."
And it pointedly found fault with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's vote to authorize the war in Iraq.
"Clinton faced a test and failed, joining the stampede as Congress voted to authorize war," the editorial said. "At last week's debate and in previous such sessions, Clinton blamed Bush for abusing the authority she helped to give him, and she has made much of the fact that Obama was not yet in the Senate and didn't face the same test. But Obama was in public life, saw the danger of the invasion and the consequences of occupation, and he said so. He was right."
Jim Newton, editor of the editorial pages, acknowledged that the endorsements shared a common, though unintentional thread. "It is true we are looking for unifying characters, and I think they both to some degree meet that criteria, though we didn't set out with that as" a priority, he said.
The last presidential candidate The Times endorsed was Richard M. Nixon in his 1972 reelection effort, a decision that then-Publisher Otis Chandler came to regret as Watergate unfolded, Newton said.
At the time, Chandler was trying to "break . . . the connection to the Republican Party" that had dominated the paper's editorial voice for decades, and, Newton said, Chandler believed the best way to do that was to remain silent on presidential races.
With the changes since then, Newton said, there was no reason to remain silent.
"The whole idea of editorial writing is that it's good for society in general to have a civil discourse about these issues," he said.