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The Endorsement Hierarchy Revisited

Today the campaigns of Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) are trotting out competing endorsements as they seek to build excitement in the run up to Super Tuesday.

("Super Tuesday" won our Fix poll question as to how we should refer to the avalanche of states set to vote on Feb. 5. "Super Tuesday" received 38 percent of the vote followed by "Tsunami Tuesday" at 28 percent. The Fix's personal favorite -- "Plain Old Tuesday" -- finished last with 13 percent. Thanks to all 1,243 of you who participated! And keep an eye out for more Fix polls in the near future.)

For Obama, it is Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. For Clinton, it is Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.).

How do these two fit into The Fix's endorsement hierarchy?

Sebelius, who is currently serving her second term as the governor of the Sunflower State, is a prime example of a State-Specific (Statewide) endorsement -- the second most valuable sort of endorsement in The Fix hierarchy.

Kansas will hold a caucus on Feb. 5 and Sebelius' support for Obama coupled with his native son appeal should make him a heavy favorite there. Sebelius' endorsement is important for another reason: it puts her firmly in the vice presidential pool if Obama winds up as the nominee. Sebelius is term limited out of her post in 2010 and is almost certainly looking for a promotion in the political world. She might have to get in line, however, as Govs. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Janet Napolitano (Ariz.) were earlier endorsers of Obama.

As for Waters, she is a classic example of a State-Specific (Non-Statewide) endorser. Waters had held her majority-minority Los Angeles-area district since 1990 and is one of the most prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington.

While Waters should help Clinton stay competitive in her district and the other surrounding majority-minority districts, her real import as an endorser is to push back against the idea that the black community is rallying behind Obama in the wake of his victory in South Carolina, where he won a huge majority of the black vote. Waters' endorsement is aimed at countering the hardening of conventional wisdom that black voters were turned off by the campaign Clinton -- and her husband -- ran in the Palmetto State and would defect in droves to Clinton.

Why not make Waters a Symbolic Endorsement -- the highest ranking in The Fix's hierarchy? Because while Waters may be a potent symbol among segments of the black community and the chattering class, she is not broadly symbolic to large swaths of voters.

Below you'll find a synopsis of the endorsement hierarchy chart. We've added a new category since yesterday to deal with a glaring oversight: the newspaper endorsement.

The Symbolic Endorsement -- The Good: Ted Kennedy circa 2008. The Bad: Al Gore circa 2004

The State-Specific (Statewide) Endorsement -- The Good: Charlie Crist (2008). The Bad: Judd Gregg (2000,2008)

The Celebrity Endorsement -- The Good: Oprah. The Bad: Sly Stallone.

An interesting corollary for the celebrity endorsement was proposed yesterday: The B/C-list celebrity who has a huge following among a small -- but influential -- sector of the population. Example: Kal Penn, who starred in such teen-cult hits as "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" and "National Lampoon's Van Wilder." Penn was a key surrogate in the teen and college set for Obama in Iowa. And, no, we are not kidding.

The Newspaper Endorsement -- The new addition to our endorsement hierarchy is designed to deal with the importance (or lack thereof) of which candidate a newspaper picks. Usually, newspaper endorsements are helpful only at the margins. That is, because there are so many newspapers in every state, it's hard for any candidate to win the vast majority of them and claim any sort of mandate. Some newspapers -- the Des Moines Register (Iowa), the Union Leader (New Hampshire) and the State (South Carolina) -- are clearly the leading newspapers in their respective states and, as such, their endorsements carry far more weight. But, they are the exception not the rule.

By and large, most newspaper endorsements may sway some undecided voters but it's rarely enough to alter the outcome. If one candidate can manage to win the VAST majority of newspaper endorsements in a state or a series of influential (as Arizona Sen. John McCain has done over the last month or so) then it can be turned into momentum.

Of course, not every newspaper endorsement is helpful. Take the New York Times endorsement of McCain recently. The Times is hated by conservatives and several of McCain's rivals for the nomination bashed him for "winning" the endorsement. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani even put up a Web ad -- his favorite kind of advertising apparently -- noting that he had not won the endorsement of various papers due to his strong conservative credentials.

The State-Specific (Non Statewide) Endorsement -- The Good: Marco Rubio (2008) The Bad: Steve King (2008)

The Pariah Endorsement: The Good -- Not Possible. The Bad: Joe Lieberman in a Democratic primary (2008)

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 29, 2008; 2:27 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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