Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Billings Gazette predicts big Steve Daines win -- (i.e. they endorsed him)

It was gratifying to read in the Billings Gazette that Steve Daines is headed for a lop-sided victory in the race for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. Congress. Of course, it wasn’t worded in quite that way. What the Gazette editors actually did was to endorse Daines.

For those unfamiliar with how the Gazette operates when it comes to political endorsements, here is a quick summary:

1. The editors endorse Democrats in any competitive race that matters.

2. There will usually be one token Republican whom they endorse, just to give an appearance of fairness. That way, no one can justly say that they never endorse Republicans. They might even endorse two, if one of them involves only token Democratic opposition.

3. If a race is going to be close, the endorsement goes to the Democrat.

4. If a race is going to be a blowout, one way or the other (mainly if a Republican is going to blow out the Democrat), they will usually endorse the Republican -- after all, there is nothing at stake.

5. If a Republican is an incumbent and is likely to win, then that candidate has an especially good chance of getting to be the token Republican.

So far, the Gazette has endorsed the Democrat in Montana's Attorney General race, Secretary of State race, State Auditor race, and State Superintendent race. That’s four out of the 5 state Land Board seats. It is unthinkable that the Gazette would endorse anyone but Steve Bullock for governor, given how close that race is shaping up to be, so that means the Gazette will go five for five for Democrats on Land Board races. To direct a little extra kick in the Republican direction, the Gazette endorsed the Democrat in our region’s PSC race.

The editors chose to endorse Brad Johnson against Linda McCulloch 4 years ago but are endorsing McCulloch this time against Johnson. Fortunately, the Democrats gave them the talking points they needed for their switch. Granted, it wasn’t much of an endorsement for Johnson in 2008 -- here is how I described it 4 years ago:

...the Billings Gazette endorsed Democrats in 5 of the 6 competitive statewide races this election season, and saved its most tepid "well if we have to say it we suppose there's no real reason to vote against him so OK go ahead if you really feel you need to maybe" endorsement for the lone Republican they endorsed -- Brad Johnson... (Incidentally, I enjoyed the discussion after that post, in no small part because a commenter suggested that the Gazette hire me as their token local conservative columnist!)

In addition, it is unthinkable that the Gazette would do other than to endorse Jon Tester in the barnburner of a Senate race that we have here in Montana, especially since Democratic control of the U.S. Senate could be at stake.

So, Steve Daines was the last Republican standing, and thus got the Gazette’s endorsement. He, to recap the opening of this piece, was the logical candidate to be the token Republican, since he is likely to win the race handily. The Gazette really wouldn’t be able to change the trajectory of the race by endorsing his opponent, and furthermore since control of the House is comfortably in Republican hands, the only danger that Daines really poses to Democrats in Montana is that he will be virtually impossible to displace and will be a formidable future candidate for the Senate or the governorship.

It had to be painful for the editors to endorse a rising GOP star like Daines, but then, there is plenty of time to take him down in the future -- for now, he gets to be the Gazette’s token Republican for 2012. And it seems clear that he will be the lone Republican endorsed in the 8 major races in which Gazette readers will be voting. (The endorsement for U.S. President could possibly go to Romney -- again, since Romney will carry Montana handily, this would be a harmless GOP endorsement in a non-competitive race for the Gazette.)

Update: This post was written earlier and was scheduled to post in the wee hours this morning. And indeed, when I woke up this morning, there was a Romney endorsement in the Gazette.

Which brings us back to the Rehberg-Tester race. By my count, the Gazette editors have endorsed Rehberg in 5 consecutive Congressional races. Rehberg is furthermore a Billings guy. You’d think that would count for something at a paper called the Billings Gazette, but you should ask former Sen. Conrad Burns how that theory works out in practice once you are in a competitive race against a Democrat.

As we pointed out in a piece 5 years ago, Rehberg has indeed been endorsed repeatedly by the Gazette, but not when the race is competitive. His one competitive House race was in 2000, and that year, the Gazette endorsed his Democratic opponent.


And that is exactly what we should expect again this year.


Don Pogreba said...

It seems like there is a simpler explanation than liberal bias.

When you argue that Rehberg has not been endorsed in competitive years, perhaps it should seem apparent why he doesn't get the endorsement. He's running against a better, more credible opponent.

As for the other endorsements, doesn't it seem like part of the issue might be the quality of the candidates the GOP is offering?

Derek Skees simply lacks the knowledge and experience necessary to be Auditor. That the endorsement of Lindeen wasn't far more critical of Mr. Skees was a generous decision.

Ms. Welch lacks the experience of Ms. Juneau. She also lacks fundamental knowledge about Montana schools.

As for Mr. Johnson, certainly his career after leaving the SoS office might be a reason not to give him the endorsement. I don't think many Republican leaders were too thrilled that he won that primary.

Want more endorsements? Run better candidates.

Brad Anderson said...

My critique is not really about the Gazette endorsing Democrats. It obviously reflects their ideas of who should hold office in Montana, and the publisher has decided to cede these decisions to a left-leaning editorial staff. It's his paper, and they are the editorial board. A free press -- learn to love it.

What I find off-putting from a purely intellectual standpoint is rather the selective and strategic endorsements of token Republicans whom I know good and well the editorial staff at the Gazette could not possibly prefer in most instances.

There seems to be no logical reason for the same Gazette editors who chose Lindeen over Grimes 4 years ago (to choose one example) to have endorsed Rehberg in 5 straight races, or Daines in this race, or Burns in 2000, or Romney in this election. What all of those elections had in common was a Republican who was safely going to win no matter what endorsements the Gazette gave.

This practice has, quite simply, all the hallmarks of a cynical and calculating approach, not an honest appraisal of the candidates. It has the effect of partially mitigating accusations of Democratic bias and has little more to be said for it.

I will believe otherwise when the Gazette starts endorsing Republicans in toss-up races just as often as they do Democrats. I'll start to reconsider my assessment if they do it even a time or two.