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Fix Pick: Taken to Task on Endorsements

Regular readers know that Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, an invaluable political tipsheet, is a close friend and mentor to The Fix. So when Stu speaks, we listen.

On Friday, Stu penned an online column taking issue with the media's coverage of Sen. John Kerry's (Mass.) recent endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama.

Among those Stu singled out for overstating the impact of the Kerry endorsement was, you guessed it, The Fix.

"Even my good friend Chris Cillizza of washingtonpost.com seemed to accept that the Kerry endorsement was a significant plus for Obama," Stu wrote. "He, like many others, cited Kerry's '3 million-plus person e-mail list from his run for president,' which he said 'should be a financial windfall for Obama's campaign.'"

The main point of Stu's column is that there is almost zero precedent for an endorsement drastically shifting votes in a presidential race.

"Even if some endorsements matter, there is no compelling evidence that I know of that Kerry's will," he writes. "Indeed, the endorsement by Kerry, who is more associated with the past than with the future, fundamentally contradicts the Obama message and could turn out to be a liability."

He has a point. The most prominent endorsements of the last few presidential contests haven't exactly turned out as the principals had hoped. The most commonly cited example is former Vice President Al Gore's endorsement of former Gov. Howard Dean in 2004; Gore's backing, which was expected to be the final piece of Dean's winning puzzle, wound up signaling the beginning of the end.

There are many other examples. Remember how Rep. Jim Clyburn was going to deliver South Carolina's primary in 2004 to Kerry? Whoops. Kerry lost by 15 points to former senator John Edwards. Or how about Sen. Judd Gregg's (N.H.) backing of then Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 2000 and former governor Mitt Romney this time around? Double whoops. Or when then Gov. John Engler put his political organization on the line for Bush only to watch Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) carry Michigan. Yet another whoops.

"Too many observers, I'm afraid, seem to think that every campaign development is important and changes the political equation," write Stu. "Even smart people, like Chris, who will tell you that most endorsements by individual members of Congress don't matter much, get swept along with the campaign hype."

(If you're looking for even more on the limited impact of Congressional endorsements, make sure to check out Ben Pershing's post at the "Capitol Briefing" blog. Ben's new to washingtonpost.com so make sure check out his blog.)

Make sure to read Stu's whole column. And then let us know in the comment section whether you agree with Stu's take on presidential endorsements. Do they matter at all? Or are they just something for the media to cover and hyperventilate about?

I'll be lying low this weekend -- in search of some much needed rest after an amazing last few weeks of politics. Thanks for coming a long for the ride.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 11, 2008; 5:58 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Picks  
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