Charleston Gazette Endorsements Need a Little Perspective

by Stuart Rothenberg April 25, 2014 · 9:49 AM EDT

Stop the presses!

The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’s largest newspaper, has endorsed both Democratic Senate hopeful Natalie Tennant and Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, a Democrat in the 3rd District.

Tennant will face Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in November in an open-seat contest, while Rahall will face Evan Jenkins, a former Democrat who switched parties to run against the 19-term congressman.

Tennant’s campaign was ecstatic about the endorsement, quoting from it extensively in a recent press release.

But I’ve written before (here and here) about how little value endorsements have in high-profile contests (Ted Kennedy’s endorsement of Barack Obama couldn’t help him carry the state in the 2008 Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary) and the Gazette endorsement is particularly irrelevant.

Why? Because the Charleston Gazette is increasingly out of step with West Virginia’s politics.

The newspaper endorsed Barack Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential contests. As you may recall, Obama drew just 42.6 percent of the vote in the Mountain State in 2008. Four years later, he drew only 35.5 percent of the vote statewide, handing Republican Mitt Romney a 27-point victory in the state. The newspaper endorsed John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000, as well. Republican George W. Bush carried the state both times.

Interestingly, the newspaper refused to endorse Sen. Joe Manchin III in the 2012 Democratic Senate primary because it believed the moderate Democrat had strayed too far from some of his party’s “core values.” He won renomination easily and re-election in the fall by more than 20 points. The newspaper did endorse Manchin in the general election.

In the 2012 congressional race in the 2nd District, which includes Charleston, the Gazette endorsed Democrat Howard Swint over Capito, the incumbent. According to his Nov. 26, 2012, FEC report, Swint raised a grand total of $6,924 for that race and drew 30.2 percent of the vote against the Republican.

There is nothing wrong with the Gazette endorsing Democrats or liberals, of course. Unfortunately, many media outlets still think they ought to tell voters who they should support. But the Gazette’s endorsements are both predictable and meaningless. They obviously carry little or no weight. If anything, they give Tennant’s and Rahall’s opponents a bit more political ammunition.