Do endorsements matter?

by Michael Dennehy

Arguably the most important step in the early stages of a political campaign - and presidential campaigns in particular - is the race to secure high-level endorsements.

There are varying opinions on the importance of endorsements. For instance, in the 2000 New Hampshire Republican Presidential Primary, George W. Bush had nearly all the top political endorsements but went on to lose the First-in-the-Nation Primary to John McCain 49-31. John McCain had only a handful of endorsements in 2000.

In the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Primary, the Boston Globe listed the 115 most desirable endorsements and Hillary Clinton had 80 of them.  Bernie Sanders had only 6 endorsements but went on to obliterate Clinton on Election Day, 60-38.

So how important are endorsements, then, if the candidate who gets the most still loses

Endorsements don’t translate into victory. To win, you need a lot more than some popular political supporters. That’s where message, strategy, and the candidate’s abilities come in to play.

However, endorsements are important because they give a candidate instant credibility.

In fact, in the 2000 Republican presidential primary, if John McCain hadn’t secured any major endorsements, he may not have ended up getting traction. With the support of well-respected former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman and former Governor Walter Peterson, McCain was given credibility and the ultimate introduction to New Hampshire’s voters. 

In the 2020, there are already 8 candidates running in the Democratic Primary to take on President Trump and there will likely be a total of 15. It is this type of election where endorsements can make a difference and give a candidate a jump start in an effort to build up a head of steam heading into the long, crowded marathon of a campaign.

Thus far, no Democratic candidate for President has received any high-level endorsement in New Hampshire.  You can bet, though, that when the 4 members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, Senators Shaheen and Hassan and Congressmen Kuster and Pappas make a decision there will be a large press event to highlight their support. 

- Mike Dennehy is a partner and co-founder at Pinnacle Campaign Strategies. He served as a senior-level strategist for John McCain’s Presidential Campaigns in both 2000 and 2008.