The answer: Sometimes. They can create momentum, or they can land with a thud. An endorsement that comes with a fundraising and grassroots network is the most coveted of all. If the candidate is running an insurgent, anti-establishment campaign, endorsements can actually be used by a rival as weapons.
In 2008, the last-minute endorsement of John McCain by the popular governor of Florida at the time, Charlie Crist, was widely perceived as helping him cinch the state's earliest primary in history and win the nomination. This year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott's 37 percent approval rating makes the gubernatorial seal of approval a lot less valuable.
Hillary Clinton initially scooped up most of the Democratic establishment in the 2008 presidential primary, but as the delegate battle wore on, defectors started gravitating toward Barack Obama.
This year, the endorsement primary has a clear winner: Mitt Romney by a landslide. His latest scores in New Hampshire are U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Charlie Bass. The nods add to the sense of inevitability Romney is building in the state that hosts the first primary.
Says the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Fergus Cullen in a recent column:
Do endorsements matter? In New Hampshire, yes. State legislators represent small districts and are usually well known in their communities. Among a legislator's non-activist friends, an endorsement can be influential, at a minimum a reason to give a candidate a closer look and extra consideration.
The absence of endorsements for some candidates says something, too. After all, there are nearly 400 elected Republicans to state, county, and Federal office in NH. How hard can it be to persuade five of them to support you? Is it really plausible that a candidate can be at 20% in the polls but have five or fewer elected officials as public supporters? Count me skeptical.
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