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The endorsement dilemma

"The endorsement dilemma" Continued...

Issue: "Warrior class," Aug. 28, 2010

The endorsement was a surprise; given a choice between two pro-life candidates, groups typically back the one with the longer voting record. Right to Life of Michigan had endorsed Hoekstra for the 17 years he has been in office, while it had only backed Cox in his two races to be attorney general. Hoekstra called the members of the group "political opportunists." "They made a political calculation. They chose and they chose poorly," he told me. The Cox campaign didn't reply to a request for comment.

Larry Galmish, the director of Right to Life of Michigan's PAC, said the decision was "hard." He acknowledged, "The board tried to select the candidate that had the strongest campaign." Cox ended up in third behind Hoekstra.

For voters in general, endorsements don't carry too much water. Six in 10 voters during the 2008 election said endorsements didn't affect their choice on the presidential ballot, according to a USA Today poll. But pro-life endorsements are weighty for voters who decide on that single issue.

"In a sense, though, these organizations are not determining people's votes," wrote Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, in an email. "They are acting as mediating forces by interpreting for voters the candidates' views on issues the voters have said they care about. This is especially true in primaries, where only a fraction of the voters show up. This fraction tends to be the most ideological and issue-oriented in the American electorate."

Endorsements can at least launch little-known candidates into the spotlight. Sarah Palin endorsed businessman Brian Murphy for the Republican primary for governor in Maryland over former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who has described himself more as a centrist and independent.

Before Palin's endorsement, many pollsters didn't bother including Murphy in polls on the Republican primary. In the first four days after Palin's Aug. 5 endorsement, The Washington Post wrote two lengthy articles about Murphy that appeared on the front pages of the Metro section.

But Murphy isn't expected to come close to winning the Sept. 14 primary-and if he did, he would most likely lose the general election, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1. Media buzz is one thing, votes are another. Palin's endorsed candidate in the Kansas Republican primary for Senate, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, lost to Rep. Jerry Moran Aug. 3.

In Florida, advocates switched tactics: They didn't endorse anyone for the Republican governor's primary, coming up Aug. 24. Florida Right to Life, seeing two pro-life candidates before them in Bill McCollum and Rick Scott, simply graded their pro-life-ness. Both received an "A" grade.

"There wasn't one that stood out," said Carrie Eisnaugle, president of Florida Right to Life. "We felt the rating process was more fair." The group interviewed both candidates and asked them both to fill out a questionnaire. Both scored 100 percent on the test.

I asked Eisnaugle why Florida Right to Life wouldn't pick one candidate anyway, based on who might have a better chance at winning. "Viability is something the PAC used to look at more, but this year it was decided we would take a more purist stance," Eisnaugle said. "We just want to get any pro-life person into office."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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