The Des Moines Register announced Saturday its endorsement of Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination, giving the ex-Massachusetts governor a potential boost as he seeks to overtake front-runner Newt Gingrich in the polls.
"Sobriety, wisdom and judgment," the newspaper's editorial board said on its website. "Those are qualities Mitt Romney said he looks for in a leader. Those are qualities Romney himself has demonstrated in his career in business, public service and government. Those qualities help the former Massachusetts governor stand out as the most qualified Republican candidate competing in the Iowa caucuses."
The Register noted that it did not endorse the former Massachusetts governor in 2008 -- it gave the nod to Sen. John McCain, who lost Iowa to Mike Huckabee but eventually won the nomination.
"This is a different field, and he has matured as a candidate. Rebuilding the economy is the nation’s top priority, and Romney makes the best case among the Republicans that he could do that," it said.
Romney tweeted his reaction to the endorsement Saturday night.
"Proud to receive the @DMRegister’s endorsement! Looking forward to being back in Iowa soon," he said via Twitter.
The Register's endorsement is eagerly coveted by presidential candidates, but the newspaper's track record of picking Hawkeye State winners in recent years has been underwhelming. In addition to selecting McCain over Huckabee, it backed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama that year; Obama cruised to victory in the state.
In a surprise move, it also endorsed John Edwards in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. Edwards was able to snag second place in the caucuses -- a showing that many attributed in part to the newspaper's backing -- and he became Sen. John Kerry's running mate that year.
The paper also backed Democrat Bill Bradley and McCain in 2000. Bradley came in a distant second to Vice President Al Gore in Iowa that year; McCain came in fifth, behind winner George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer.
Polls currently show Gingrich with an average of a 4-point lead in Iowa, according to RealClearPolitics' survey summations. Romney has escalated his rhetoric against the former House speaker in recent days. So has Rep. Ron Paul, who is widely regarded as having the best on-the-ground organization in Iowa.
"Newt Gingrich is an undisciplined partisan who would alienate, not unite, if he reverts to mean-spirited attacks on display as House speaker," The Register said. "Ron Paul’s libertarian ideology would lead to economic chaos and isolationism, neither of which this nation can afford."
Asked about the endorsement at an event in Fairfax, Va., Gingrich said he had no comment. RC Hammond, a Gingrich spokesperson, said, "Congratulations."
Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has roots in Iowa and made the state central to her campaign, released a statement Saturday that implied her disappointment at the paper's decision.
"I respect the decision of the Des Moines Register editorial board, but I disagree with their rationale and analysis of my campaign," Bachmann said in a statement.