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Kerry leads Bush in paper endorsements
Updated: 2004-10-26 08:49

The polls may be too close to call, but there's one area in which Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry seems to be pulling well ahead of US President Bush: newspaper endorsements.

According to an ongoing tally by Editor & Publisher, a newspaper industry magazine, so far 125 newspapers have endorsed Kerry — including at least 35 that had endorsed Bush in 2000 — versus 96 for Bush. Meanwhile, only two newspapers that went for Al Gore in 2000 have endorsed Bush.

What's more, several papers that had backed Bush four years ago are now declining to make any endorsement at all, including several in key states: The Detroit News in Michigan, The Tampa Tribune in Florida, and The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.

In an editorial published Sunday, The Detroit News told its readers that Bush's failures to deliver on promises of fiscal conservatism, prudence in foreign affairs and limited government left the paper "with a decision we detest but are nonetheless compelled to make" in endorsing neither candidate for president. The paper has never endorsed a Democrat for president, and held back endorsements only twice before, during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era.

In Tampa, the historically conservative Tampa Tribune told readers in an editorial last week that it was "deeply conflicted about the presidential race." While The Tribune said it found it "unimaginable" not to be joining other right-leaning newspapers in endorsing Bush, the paper said it could not do so because of his "mishandling" of the war in Iraq, record deficit spending and Bush's "assault on open government."

In an age when many people get their news from TV, newspaper endorsements don't necessarily sway large blocs of voters, though they could have a bearing in some key states such as Florida where the race is close. In fact, in that state, a number of key papers have come out in favor of Kerry, making it an interesting test case of how effective endorsements are, says Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor and Publisher.

E&P did not do a similar tally of newspaper endorsements for the 2000 election, but an informal count done by a researcher at George Washington University at the time and published on the university's Web site found that 175 papers endorsed Bush four years ago, while 121 backed Gore.

This year the E.W. Scripps Co. broke a longstanding tradition by allowing the editors of each of its 21 papers to make their own choices on endorsing candidates. Scripps used to hold a vote among its editors to decide which candidate would be endorsed, then the same editorial would be run in each newspaper.

Michael Phillips, Scripps' editorial development director, said the policy was abandoned at an editors' meeting this spring. "It's a quaint old tradition that doesn't make any sense in today's world," Phillips said.

The Scripps papers had leaned heavily in favor of Republican candidates, making its last Democratic endorsement with Lyndon Johnson. So far this year, at least three Scripps papers have endorsed Kerry, Phillips said.

Even the New Yorker magazine decided to jump into the fray this time around, making its first-ever political endorsement this week with a five-page editorial backing Kerry. Spokeswoman Perri Dorset said the magazine broke with tradition because the editors felt that "this is a very critical election and an important time in our country."

The New York Times has already endorsed Kerry, while several other large national papers — including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times — do not normally make endorsements.

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