The New Hampshire Union Leader just became the most popular newspaper in New Jersey.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earned the coveted endorsement from the newspaper on Sunday, an important nod for his struggling presidential campaign. But it alone is unlikely to steady a bid that, despite technically solid campaign operations and an unquestionably professional staff, has yet to have its moment.
“Gov. Chris Christie is exactly the conservative Republican needed to take the fight to Hillary Clinton next fall and then get about the serious business of defending us and rebuilding our economy,” Union Leader Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid wrote in a Page One editorial in Sunday’s editions.
The signed endorsement more importantly suggests the road in New Hampshire will be rough for Christie’s rivals. Without naming them, the newspaper compared President Obama with Republicans now seeking the GOP nomination: Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky. “We don’t need another fast-talking, well-meaning freshman U.S. senator trying to run the government. We are still seeing the disastrous effects of the last such choice,” the newspaper wrote.
The paper also took a swing at three political neophytes in the mix: real estate mogul Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former tech executive Carly Fiorina. “We don’t need as President some well-meaning person from the private sector who has no public experience,” the paper wrote. Given the paper’s previous criticism of Trump, it’s doubtful the editors are including the billionaire in the mix of “well-meaning” contenders.
In New Hampshire, the Union Leader’s clout means less now than it did during its heyday, when it represented one of the most conservative and influential editorial pages in the country. Under the leadership of William Loeb, the Union Leader helped pick Governors, destroy presidential contenders and shift New Hampshire rightward for more than 30 years. His widow, Nackey, picked up that mantle before it passed to McQuaid, albeit with dwindling national impact beyond presidential primaries.
Still, the paper continues to have sway that papers in any other state covet. It’s why, ahead of his second White House run, Mitt and Ann Romney hosted McQuaid for a private dinner to make the case for this 2012 bid. If the Union Leader weren’t to endorse Romney—and it was not to be—Romney want wanted at least a veneer of détente. Please, they asked, at least give him a shot before eviscerating him as a Massachusetts flip-flopper. On the day Romney declared his national campaign on a Seacoast-area farm, the newspaper made brief mention of it on Page One. The top political story that day was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s visit to New Hampshire.
And there is why the Union Leader matters: when the newspaper decides a candidate is unacceptable, its targets should brace. Advisers to John McCain’s 2008 bid credit the Union Leader for destroying Romney’s bid that year in New Hampshire, on both the news and editorial pages. The same happened four years later. The paper picked former House Speaker Newt Gingich as its favorite. Gingrich finished fifth place in the state’s primary, but the newspaper was merciless in trying to clear the way for him.
And that’s what Christie needs right now: a dedicated attack dog that allows him to continue to stick with his message of a respectable Governor, straight-talking candidate and tough-on-terrorism former U.S. Attorney. With the Union Leader in his corner, he can spend his time—and money—building up his own brand and leader the newspaper to destroying likely rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the charismatic trio of current first-term Senators. Indeed, those three seem to be the Union Leader’s top worry.
Christie’s advisers in New Jersey, however, should not expect clear sailing to a win in New Hampshire. While Christie has spent an impressive number of days in the state—he has made 113 stops in the state, second only to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 163— he has not yet caught fire. A Suffolk University poll released last week shows Christie stuck at 4%.
The Union Leader alone won’t change that. If history is a guide, Christie should expect a burst in the next polls taken after the newspaper’s nod. But there are limits to what the newspaper can do. Nate Silver, then with the New York Times, took a look at the power of the Union Leader back in 2011 and found it potent but not predictive.
Still, for Christie, he will take any nod he can get. He’s one of the hardest-working candidates in New Hampshire and has made a credible case for his candidacy. With roughly 10 weeks left before New Hampshire votes in its leadoff primary calendar, it is up to him to figure out how to tap this boomlet, especially among conservatives who take their cues from the storied newspaper.
“Gov. Christie is right for these dangerous times. He has prosecuted terrorists and dealt admirably with major disasters,” McQuaid wrote. “But the one reason he may be best-suited to lead during these times is because he tells it like it is and isn’t shy about it.”
It’s almost as if the newspaper were writing copy for coming Christie campaign ads.