KEENE, NEW HAMPSHIRE
In what seemed like an arcane exchange in the last debate before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, Amy Klobuchar reminded Bernie Sanders that some newspaper editorial boards actually like him.
Klobuchar had just concluded an argument that she would be the more electable Democratic nominee for president: “I have a way of working with people, that I think should be valued here as we look at these candidates, and it’s one of the reasons that I got the New York Times endorsement, along with Elizabeth (Warren), and that I got the endorsements of the three major papers here in New Hampshire, which is the Union Leader, the Seacoast papers and The Keene Sentinel. I think that matters. Read those editorials, and you will get a sense of what I’m about.”
The moderator turned to Sanders, who said, “I must confess, I don’t get too many newspapers' editorial support. Must confess that.”
It’s not often these days that newspaper endorsements are topics for discussion in presidential debates. But Klobuchar goes there.
Of all the contenders for the Democratic nomination, the Minnesota senator takes newspapers especially seriously. Newspapering is in her blood. Her father, Jim Klobuchar, was a popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She grew up around daily papers and continues to talk them up — even as others speculate about the fading influence of so-called “legacy media” in an age of presidential tweets and 24/7 cable commentary.
Klobuchar’s affection for daily papers appears to be serving her well in a 2020 campaign where polls suggest her fortunes are rising. After securing a credible finish in last week’s Iowa caucuses, where she came close to elbowing former vice president Joe Biden out of fourth place, the Minnesota senator surged in the polls as Tuesday's New Hampshire primary approached.
Speaking for her state and others on a Democratic primary schedule that will get to Wisconsin on April 7, former New Hampshire Democratic gubernatorial nominee Arnie Arnesen said,“It’s clear that people are taking another look at Amy.”
Like President Trump and her fellow Democratic contenders, Klobuchar is comfortable communicating on social media platforms and jumps at the chance to do TV and radio interviews. But she goes out of her way to reach out to and talk with the editorial boards of newspapers that still make endorsements. Not just The New York Times, which made a convoluted endorsement of both Klobuchar and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but the smaller papers that still serve as vital voices across the country.
Klobuchar’s Iowa campaign highlighted warm endorsements from a pair of daily papers in the eastern part of the state — the Quad-City Times in Davenport and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Those of us who have written newspaper endorsements know they are just one way to capture voters’ attention. But it’s not unreasonable to suggest that kind words from Iowa papers boosted Klobuchar’s prospects, as The Des Moines Register’s endorsement undoubtedly helped Elizabeth Warren.
As Klobuchar noted in that last debate before New Hampshire's primary, the state's largest daily — the traditionally conservative Manchester Union Leader — endorsed her, identifying the Minnesotan as the candidate with “the strength and stamina to go toe-to-toe with the Tweeter-in-Chief.”
She also got support from daily and weekly newspapers associated with southeast New Hampshire’s Seacoast Media Group. And one of the state’s more progressive daily papers, The Keene Sentinel, gave Klobuchar a well-argued endorsement that identified her as the candidate best suited to unite the country and defeat Trump.
“Whip-smart and knowledgeable, she’s set on progress, but tempered by the political realities a new president would face,” the paper’s editors wrote. “Her record in Washington is one of getting things done, even when that requires reaching out to her GOP counterparts. Most candidates say they can ‘reach across the aisle’ and ‘bring people to the table.’ She’s done it.”
That was convincing for Maureen O’Brien, a longtime Sentinel reader from nearby Fitzwilliam. “I was deciding between Pete (Buttigieg) and Amy Klobuchar,” she said Sunday. “The Sentinel endorsement was well done; it helped convince me to go with Amy.”
Even when I talked with people who were backing other candidates, the Sentinel editorial came up. It may not have convinced them to switch allegiances, but it inspired the second looks Arnesen talks about.
While all of the major candidates have swept through Keene, a college town that tends to favor Democrats and often backs liberal contenders, Klobuchar went out of her way to visit the Sentinel’s office, where she talked for more than an hour with the editorial board about everything from climate change to income inequality. Andrew Yang visited, as well; as did Sanders, who told the editors in a December conversation, “We’ve gotta change the culture, I think, in this country, and that culture is one of greed.”
The Vermonter didn’t get the Keene endorsement, but he did earn an embrace from eastern New Hampshire’s Conway Daily Sun, which said:
"Despite resistance from mainstream Democrats and the media, he sits on or near the top of polls, attracts the biggest crowds and has raised the most money to date — mainly from small donors. So instead of fearing Sanders as a candidate on the fringe, we encourage voters to embrace the notion that he is the standard-bearer of today’s progressive movement and to join us in supporting him to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party."
That’s the Sanders endorsement Klobuchar highlighted in the debate — a reference that served as a reminder of just how seriously she keeps track of what all the papers are writing.