McCain wins early newspaper primaries

The Des Moines Register backs Clinton while the Boston Globe goes for Obama, but both papers endorse the former maverick from Arizona. Plus: Lieberman backs McCain, too.

By Joan Walsh

Published December 16, 2007 2:47PM (EST)

(Updated below with Joe Lieberman endorsement)

OK, they're both perceived as liberal newspapers whose endorsements tend to help Democrats most, but I have to wonder if the Des Moines Register and Boston Globe's endorsements of Sen. John McCain might represent, or lead to, any kind of reappraisal of the GOP field.

Mike Huckabee's surge is clearly frightening some party stalwarts. Rich Lowry was as nasty as any Democrat in this column last week (the National Review endorsed Mitt Romney.) But Romney's sinking fast, pulled down by fundamentalist conservative doubts about his Mormon faith, and everybody else's worries about his authenticity after jarring reversals on abortion, immigration and gay rights. Rudy Giuliani's campaign is a train-wreck, a pile-up of tawdry revelations about his affairs, his business deals and his friendships with Bernie Kerik and Alan Placa. Fred Thompson seems to want to head back to his La-Z-Boy after boasting that his most treasured possession is his "trophy wife," Jeri (and I hope she has enough pride to make him sleep in it after that creepy crack.) And sorry, Ron Paul fans, but your man is probably not a serious contender for the votes of the pro-war Christian conservatives who dominate the Republican base.

Maybe McCain isn't either. But could these endorsements make Republicans take another look at the Arizona senator, the only serious contender who won't frighten the children, so to speak, with either his inexperience, craven flip-flopping, corruption and cronyism or abject laziness? I can't help but ask. I disagree with McCain about virtually everything except torture, but he does seem to me like the only really serious candidate in the race. I wonder if Republican primary voters are starting to tune in and see that too -- or if my view of McCain, along with the Globe and Register endorsements, are the kiss of death. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Clinton, who won the Register endorsement, can't be too upset by the Globe's endorsing Obama; by putting McCain out there too, the endorsement winds up being just a big shoulder-shrug for New Hampshire's coveted independent voters, who can participate in either party's primary. Will they turn out for Obama, or come back to the guy they helped beat George W. Bush in 2000? We'll see. The loser in the newspaper endorsement primary is John Edwards, though he's on the cover of Newsweek this week, labeled "The Sleeper." More later.

Update: I promised more later, but who knew? The news that Sen. Joe Lieberman will endorse McCain on Monday is just another sign the McCain candidacy still has a pulse. But I'm not sure what it delivers besides headlines. Like the Globe's McCain endorsement, it could hurt Obama by restoring the glimmer of possibility to McCain's campaign and encouraging New Hampshire independents to play in the Republican primary and not the Democrats.' But it doesn't feel that surprising: Clearly he's striking back at Clinton and Obama (and Chris Dodd) for endorsing opponent Ned Lamont after he won the Democratic primary. I still see the "independent" Lieberman is a constituency of one; I'm not convinced he can deliver any votes besides his own.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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