In one of the key rituals leading up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, the Des Moines Register announced today that it is endorsing Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic presidential nomination. With February 3 coming up fast, this could give Warren, who has struggled a bit in recent national and Iowa polls, a late boost in what has generally been perceived to be a close four-way competition in Iowa with Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders.
The Register’s editorial board endorsed Warren using somewhat defensive language, perhaps aimed at rebutting criticisms of her from “centrist” rivals and mainstream media voices as well:
The senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts is not the radical some perceive her to be. She was a registered Republican until 1996. She is a capitalist. “I love what markets can do,” she said. “They are what make us rich, they are what creates opportunity.”
But she wants fair markets, with rules and accountability. She wants a government that works for people, not one corrupted by cash …
Those ideas are not radical. They are right.
It’s worth noting that the Register is a bit of a throwback as a newspaper that is still (arguably anyway) the dominant media voice in its state. It has had at best a mixed record in choosing caucus-winners since it began making endorsements in 1988. The Register has gotten the Democratic winner right just one time out of five competitive contests, though it was in the most recent caucuses in 2016 (choosing Hillary Clinton, who won narrowly over Bernie Sanders). The paper has picked three Republicans who went on to win the Caucuses, though the last was in 2000 (George W. Bush).
Warren has built an Iowa organization that’s the envy of the field. Now she has some buzz, too, which she needs given the perception that Sanders is surging in support — at her expense — in Iowa and elsewhere. Just today a well-regarded New York Times/Siena poll of Iowa showed Sanders leading the field with 25 percent of likely caucus-goers; Warren was fourth with 15 percent, just behind Buttigieg (18 percent) and Biden (17 percent). But this poll, like others, showed a lot of fluidity, with fully 40 percent saying “they could still be persuaded to caucus for a different candidate.” It’s among this group of uncertain caucus participants with just over a week to go that the Register endorsement might have an impact, or so the Warren campaign will hope.
Another local ritual will take place a week from now, when Ann Selzer’s gold-standard Iowa Poll, sponsored by the Register, CNN, and Mediacom, will publish its last pre-caucus findings. In the previous edition published on January 10, the top four candidates were closely clustered, with Warren in second place three points behind Sanders. If momentum is really a thing in the Democratic competition this year, it could be a barnburner on a cold Monday night nine days from now.