Barack Obama's smashing lead over John McCain in newspaper endorsements could prove significant - especially since the deluge began four days ago, just as Obama began to sink in most polls.
By our count over at Editor & Publisher he leads by a better than 3 to 1 margin (103 to 32 at last count). In contrast, when we did our final count in 2004, John Kerry barely edged George Bush, 213-205, and in elections before then, the GOP candidate almost always took the lion's share of endorsements.
What's startling is when you look at that list of large papers that have backed Obama. It's a who's who of the dominant papers in nearly every giant metro: Boston, New York, both papers in Chicago, Cleveland, Philly, Pittsburgh, D.C., San Francisco, Sacramento, Atlanta, both papers in L.A., Detroit, both papers in Seattle, Portland, Miami, Orlando, Raleigh, Buffalo and more. McCain's only clear wins are in Columbus and San Diego, and barely managing a split in Texas, of all places. It's a veritable landslide.
But even more revealing, Obama has an even wider lead in those that have switched sides. That flipflop number is now close to 25, with McCain only picking up one paper from the Kerry side in 2004 (the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.)
The list of switches to Obama includes such GOP stalwarts as the Chicago Tribune (never has endorsed a Democrat in its long history), Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman, plus the Denver Post, New York Daily News and a host of others. Two other large papers that did not endorse at all in 2004 (the L.A. Times and Plain Dealer in Cleveland) also backed Obama. And the list goes on and on.
What's amazing is that one paper after another cites Sarah Palin as clearly unqualified to be president. Yet many of the pundits that appear in some of the same papers, and others, have not ventured to state this clearly (like David Brooks, who has failed to state this in print). It is clearly a driving point in why so many have switched away from McCain.
Another angle: This wave of editorial endorsements, earlier than in past years, comes just as early voting starts or expands in so many states.
True, many Obama papers are in safe blue states but many others are in the red zone. Certainly the Denver Post will help in Colorado, for example. But let's look at Ohio as a prime case.
I argued here recently that while some scoff at the importance of newspaper endorsements, what about this: On the eve of the 2004 vote, I looked at the 15 top toss-up states and picked the winner for each - based purely on newspaper endorsements (size and number). I got 14 right, only missing on Florida.
I gave Ohio to Bush based largely on the stance of the two largest papers in the state: The Columbus Dispatch backed Bush (after much wrangling) while the Cleveland Plain Dealer sat it out. Sure enough, Bush won a squeaker.
But this time around, the Plain Dealer has backed the Democrat, and most of the other middle-sized city papers have also come out for him (Dayton, Akron, etc.), with the Canton Repository, a Bush backer in 2004 switching to Obama.
So scoff if you like--but when I make my toss-up picks in early November, most likely I will be putting Ohio in the Obama column. And as goes, Ohio....
For the E&P count and numerous other stories on this issue: go here
Greg Mitchell is the editor of Editor & Publisher. His latest book on the media and Iraq is "So Wrong for So Long."