The endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader is the sweetest prize in Republican primary politics. Get it, and you have a pugnacious and widely-read newspaper running accolade after accolade for you, and running slam after slam on your opponents. In 2008, the paper endorsed John McCain and set about peeling Mitt Romney like an orange. It got so bad that National Review begged the paper to lay off.
It was hard to see how Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in New Hampshire since roughly December 2008, could win the endorsement. Sure enough, he hasn't. The paper has endorsed Newt Gingrich.
Readers of the Union Leader and Sunday News know that we don't back candidates based on popularity polls or big-shot backers. We look for conservatives of courage and conviction who are independent-minded, grounded in their core beliefs about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job.
We don't have to agree with them on every issue. We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear.
The Union Leader's endorsement is only partly predictive of who will win the nomination. It went for Ronald Reagan in 1976, when he narrowly lost, and in 1980 when he won. It went for Pierre DuPont in 1988; no one has figured that one out. It endorsed Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, both insurgent runs, and he actually won the second. It endorsed Steve Forbes in 2000. There are really two kinds of Union Leader endorsements -- the ones that salute a candidate with an idea, and the ones that train guns on a candidate the paper can't stand. This endorsement blends the two instincts. The only good it does Romney, I guess, is that for the first time since he lost to McCain, he can claim to be a sort of underdog. That's nuts, and it's based on vapor, but what isn't?