After the Super Tuesday primaries in the U.S., there was a lot of discussion that various big-name endorsements seem to have not made much difference. Most notably, despite being endorsed by Governor Patrick and Senators Kennedy and Kerry, Barack Obama got beaten heavily in Massachusetts. But what struck me at the time, and what seems to have been confirmed by subsequent contests, is that (at least in Democratic primaries) mayoral endorsements seem to make an enormous difference in the campaign. Not only does the candidate with the most endorsements seem to routinely win, they seem to outperform their poll numbers.
Chris Bowers has posted a table comparing how each state’s primary compared to the pre-election poll average. I’m ignoring caucus states, where there was typically little polling and for whatever reason Obama has dominated so heavily that it is hard to draw any conclusions about comparative factors. Apart from that, Clinton’s best performances, both absolutely and relative to polling, have largely come in states where she has had major local endorsements. These include
- Massachusetts (Boston)
- New Mexico (Albuquerque)
- California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento)
- New Jersey (Trenton, Elizabeth, Bayonne, Patterson)
Note that New Mexico is the only state other than New Hampshire where Obama has lost despite leading in pre-election polling. It’s true that in New Jersey Obama was supported by some prominent local officials, including the Mayor of Newark. But my impression from talking to some people who know New Jersey well is that the vast majority of local officials (including a large number in Newark itself) were supporting Clinton.
On the other hand, Obama’s best performances, especially his best performances relative to polls, have come in states where he has some crucial endorsements. These include
- Georgia (Atlanta)
- Connecticut (New Haven)
- Virginia (Richmond, Norfolk, Alexandria, Roanoke, Charlottesville)
- D.C. (Washington)
- Maryland (Baltimore)
- Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Madison)
The only state that really doesn’t fit this pattern is Missouri, where Clinton lost badly (and crucially) in St Louis despite being endorsed by the mayor. Still, on the whole it seems like endorsements from major mayors is worth several points compared to pre-election polling.
When I first started thinking about this, I thought it would be an indicator that Clinton would start to comeback on March 4th, because she had some crucial endorsements in upcoming states, including the mayors of Philadelphia and Providence. But two things happened in the last two days that make that judgment less clear.
First, Obama was endorsed by the mayor of Cleveland. Now both Clinton (Akron, Canton, Parma, Toledo) and Obama (Cleveland, Columbus, Youngstown) have solid local support. If Obama can put up a huge win in delegate rich Cleveland, that will make it hard for Clinton to have the massive win she really needs in Ohio to get back in the game.
Second, Clinton now seems to have alienated the mayor of Providence. I assume mayoral endorsements matter not because of their persuasive powers, but because mayor’s have a GOTV machine that they can put to work on their candidate’s behalf. If Mayor Cicilline is unhappy enough to simply not work hard for Clinton, it will make Rhode Island a much closer state. Though it should be noted that Cicilline’s political opponents in Providence are, as far as I can tell, politically similar to the groups who supported Clinton heavily in Massachusetts. So maybe she’ll have enough residual support to win Rhode Island anyway, but without the game-changing margin that a huge win could have produced.
Still, combined with Obama’s endorsement by the mayor of Austin, it’s getting harder to see where Clinton is going to stage her comeback.