Robert Ullman

Newspaper endorsements often matter a lot more to journalists than they do to the outcome of any given race, but a December 16 endorsement from the Des Moines Register could prove an exception to that rule.

The Register is the biggest and most influential newspaper in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, and its decision to back Hillary Clinton's run for the Democratic nomination will be noted by a lot of the paper's liberal readers. Perhaps more importantly, it has been noted by the national media, which is obsessively (and rightly) focused on every little political movement in Iowa right now. After a couple of weeks in which Barack Obama was grabbing headlines and cover stories about his surging fortunes, and after a number of poorly received attacks by Clinton surrogates on everything from Obama's kindergarten writing to his youthful drug use, the endorsement gave Clinton a chance to get back on her feet.

"The choice," the paper wrote, "comes down to preparedness: Who is best prepared to confront the enormous challenges the nation faces—from ending the Iraq war to shoring up America's middle class to confronting global climate change? The job requires a president who not only understands the changes needed to move the country forward but also possesses the discipline and skill to navigate the reality of the resistant Washington power structure... That candidate is Hillary Rodham Clinton."

It might as well have been the script from a Clinton television commercial—and, in fact, it quickly became the script for a Clinton television commercial that went on the air in Iowa the next day. At the same time, Clinton took to the Iowa air, flying from county to county in a five-day helicopter (or "Hill-o-copter") blitz that will have her, or her endorsers, showing up in all 99 of Iowa's counties just before the Christmas lull. As much as the Hill-o-copter is a magnet for jokes and Richard Nixon references, it's also a very presidential way to travel, and for the first time in a while Clinton is sounding as if she really believes her boasts about finishing strong in that state.

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Here in Washington, the chair of the local John Edwards campaign, Jenny Durkan, has a beef with me. She doesn't like my focus on all the Clinton-Obama maneuvering because it presumes Edwards is going to come in third in Iowa, with either Clinton or Obama coming in first (and the one who's not taking second). Durkan challenged me to put my money where my mouth is and bet her a nice lunch that Edwards would, in fact, come behind both Obama and Clinton in Iowa. I don't quite accept the premise of the bet, but I understand the frustration behind her complaint. So I took the bet. And for what it's worth, I predict I'll be the one buying lunch. recommended

eli@thestranger.com