The Manchester Union leader has endorsed Chris Christie for President. I’ve long thought that New Hampshire Republican primary voters might warm to Christie. He has a bit of John McCain’s pugnaciousness, but also a some of Mitt Romney’s good government pragmatism. McCain and Romney collectively won the last three contested New Hampshire primaries.
Moreover, Christie is campaigning hard in the Granite State. And in doing so, he tends to follow McCain’s example of taking as many questions as voters want to ask, rather than serving up stump speeches. From what I saw when I traveled with McCain in late 2007, New Hampshire voters like this.
Nonetheless, Christie stands at only 5.3 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average for New Hampshire. Six candidates — Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush — are ahead of him.
Can the endorsement of any newspaper, even one as influential as the Union Leader, propel Christie into serious contention from this far back? Keep in mind that only three of the last seven Union Leader endorsees in contested primaries — Ronald Reagan in 1980, Pat Buchanan in 1996, and John McCain in 2008 — went on to win the first-in-the-nation primary. Other endorsees were Pierre “Pete” Du Pont, Pat Buchanan (in the 1992 contest), Steve Forbes, and Newt Gingrich.
However, the Union Leader’s endorsement is probably more important than one might infer from a superficial look at this track record. Nate Silver found that the first six endorsees cited above all experienced a good or excellent boost from the endorsement. In each case, they ended up outperforming their polling as of the time they received the endorsement. Reagan jumped from 43 percent to 50 percent; Du Pont from 4 percent to 11 percent; Buchanan from 25 percent to 37 percent and from 13 percent to 27 percent; Forbes from 8 percent to 13 percent; and McCain from 16 percent to 37 percent.
Silver found these results highly statistically significant even after adjusting for the fact that the polls (as opposed to the election results) included undecideds.
Gingrich is the exception. Silver’s study was conducted before the 2012 primary, but my research indicates that the former Speaker’s support dropped from 23 percent at the time he received the endorsement — November 26, 2011 — to 9.4 percent in the final results. As Steve Spurrier once said of his record as coach of the Washington Redskins, not very good.
Gingrich’s case notwithstanding, I think it’s reasonable to expect Christie to surge in New Hampshire given the Union Leader’s endorsements and other considerations that may make him appealing to a good chunk of the relevant electorate. However, it’s probably unrealistic to think that he will win the primary, and quite possibly a stretch to suppose he will come very close.
Christie is competing for center-right votes with Trump, Rubio, Bush, and Kasich. Most if not all of these rivals will still be around on primary day, and at least two of them will likely remain quite formidable even without the Union Leader’s endorsement.