The Union Leader's endorsement record

The New Hampshire Union Leader having endorsed Newt Gingrich in the Republican Presidential primary, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at how often the paper’s endorsed candidates actually go on to win the primary.

The modern primary system came about in the late 70s and early 80s. Ronald Reagan’s challenge of President Gerald Ford in 1976 was the first test of the nationwide series of primaries and caucuses, followed by Ronald Reagan’s defeat of George H. W. Bush in 1980. By 1988 we had a system that resembles that which we have today.

New Hampshire’s primaries were a leader in that transition. Not only do they come early in each cycle, but they were also being held before most states had them. So we can look at the Union Leader’s endorsements further back than we might otherwise. I’ve started in 1968, when Richard Nixon held large early leads against George Romney, and then later beat Nelson Rockefeller.

Year Union Leader endorsement Primary Winner
1968 Richard Nixon Richard Nixon
1972 John Ashbrook Richard Nixon
1976 Ronald Reagan Gerald Ford
1980 Ronald Reagan Ronald Reagan
1984 Uncontested Ronald Reagan
1988 Pete du Pont George H. W. Bush
1992 Pat Buchanan George H. W. Bush
1996 Pat Buchanan Pat Buchanan
2000 Steve Forbes John McCain
2004 Uncontested George W. Bush
2008 John McCain John McCain
2012 Newt Gingrich TBD

Clearly the paper has a mixed record in its picks. However only once can it be said that the paper picked a candidate going nowhere, in 1988 when it backed Pete du Pont as Vice President Bush was on the way to the nomination. Pete du Pont finished fourth in the state at 10%. The only other time he finished above 3% was when he finished fifth in Iowa at 7%.

They were wrong in 1972, but it’s clear the paper was making a stand for John Ashbrook as the conservative challenger to the left-wing Pete McCloskey (who would go on to endorse John Kerry for President in 2004, and became a Democrat in 2007) and the centrist President himself. Nixon had gotten the paper’s strong support four years earlier, but his policies disappointed the conservative paper. Ashbrook’s 10% was his best showing outside of California.

Reagan of course failed to win the 76 race in New Hampshire and nationally, but he put a scare into the President, as we recently became sure of from Donald Rumsfeld’s book. The run also secured his win in 1980, a pattern we later saw with Pat Buchanan failing in New Hampshire in 1992 but succeeding in 1996.

Forbes? Sure, he didn’t win, but he broke ground for major tax reform. His flat tax drew strange looks, but in the end, it seems like every Republican has his own variant, now. Forbes wins.

So I’m forced to conclude the paper does not pick the winners, but its picks do matter. At least, they matter most of the time. Also, I’d say the paper’s just another sign that New Hampshire conservatives are not entirely convinced of Mitt Romney, for him to have failed to get this endorsement twice now. The paper doesn’t reflect all of the state, but look at that track record: the paper leans right.