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"Score another big name endorsement for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” crowed CNN.com on July 5, the day the Clinton campaign announced that former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) would serve as an economic adviser and co-chairman of the presidential hopeful’s campaign.
That was the same day I received an e-mail from the Edwards for President folks, bragging that the former North Carolina Senator had “picked up the support of several prominent Ohio leaders.”
“Fourteen Ohio Democrats are endorsing Edwards as the strongest candidate to put a Democrat back in the White House and the candidate with the boldest plans to build One America, where every person has the chance to work hard and get ahead,” continued the news release.
John Edwards’ Ohio endorsements followed earlier releases about “prominent Latinos” and “African American Leaders” who were endorsing him. Both lists included state and local elected officials, as well as a number of community “activists” and “leaders,” a catch-all that could mean pretty much anything.
A few days earlier, the campaign of Sen. Joseph Biden had sent out a news release about three Iowa state Representatives who were endorsing the Delaware Democrat.
And then there are all those celebrity endorsements, from Susan Sarandon to Paul Newman to Laurie David to a bunch of other public figures who fall under the general heading of “personalities.”
Yes, endorsements are a big deal ... except that 99 percent of them — at least 99 percent — don’t matter.
Thank goodness for Gephardt, who self-deprecatingly joked about his endorsement of Clinton: “I’m a has-been politician, so I don’t know that I can do anything more than bring my own vote, but maybe I can get my family to vote the right way.”
The New York Daily News headlined his comment as “Gep’s gaffe,” proving once again that reporters don’t really want politicians to tell the truth, and when they do say something that resembles reality, those reporters criticize them for it.
But, of course, Gephardt, who is still widely liked in the nation’s capital, is correct. His endorsement will get Clinton exactly one vote. Where he was wrong was implying that the endorsements of current political figures (or celebrities) matter. As a rule, endorsements almost never matter.
Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean on Dec. 9, 2003, a day after New Hampshire’s largest teachers union backed Dean and just about a month after two huge, influential labor unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, jointly endorsed him.
At that time, of course, Dean was far and away the leading Democratic presidential hopeful in fundraising, cash on hand and most polling. If those endorsements had enhanced Dean’s appeal, they should have shut the door on the rest of the Democratic field.