Fineman on Edwards, the Power of Endorsements

My NEWSWEEK colleague Howard Fineman has a very smart (and very timely) column up about whether Edwards will endorse--and why endorsements in general matter more now than they have in decades. Excerpts:


The big question on the Democratic side is who John Edwards will support now that he's dropping out of the race. I'm told that Edwards's decision was very closely held, meaning he and his wife alone knew the score. As of Tuesday morning, he still had an ambitious schedule planned in the Super Tuesday states. But Tuesday afternoon he notified his staff that he wanted to go to New Orleans instead. Everyone knew what that meant. That devastated city was where Edwards had begun his campaign in the name of the poor and forgotten. Now he would return to say that his campaign had failed, but that the cause lived on. As for his endorsement plans, they remain unclear. His representatives had been reaching out to Obama's high command for weeks, but I am told that they rebuffed him. A top aide to Edwards cautioned not to assume that Edwards would endorse Obama. "He's gained a lot of respect for Hillary, for her toughness in all that she has been through." That could just be a negotiating ploy on Edwards's part. We'll see.


If the 2008 campaign has proved anything so far, it is that endorsements DO matter. In fact, they may well matter more than they have in decades. Voters are too busy, distracted and ideologically confused to make fateful political decisions on their own. They are looking for guidance. And now the race is entering a phase–Super-Duper-Mega Tsunami Tuesday—when endorsements may prove indispensable.

You also need character witnesses. Unlike the early, intimate states of Iowa and New Hampshire, voters can't examine the candidates up close, like a piece of fruit in the market. And with a resurgence of ethnic-identity politics, especially on the Democratic side, candidates need endorsers to give them entrée across social borders.

Read the rest here