In January 1992, the editorial board of The Carthage Press met in our conference room, the first such meeting to which I had been invited. My recollection of the meeting is that Publisher Jim Farley, Managing Editor Neil Campbell, City Editor Jack Harshaw, Marvin VanGilder, and I attended the meeting.
The meeting had only one purpose- to determine how we would endorse Carthage native Bill Webster for governor. As I recall, there was absolutely no consideration of the other Republican candidates, Secretary of State Roy Blunt, or State Treasurer Wendell Bailey. Webster was from Carthage, so he was going to receive our endorsement.
I assumed that we were going to endorse Webster for the GOP nomination, then examine the Democratic candidates and endorse one of them for that party's nomination. I quickly learned that was not the case. The entire purpose of the meeting was to make sure that we were the first newspaper to endorse Webster for governor. There was no need to endorse anyone for the Democratic nomination.
As it was explained to me, Bill Webster could do much more for Carthage than any of other candidates. Showing just how naive I was at that point, I said, "Isn't he running for governor of Missouri, not governor of Carthage."
From a couple of members of the board, I received that look which says, "Man, you have a lot to learn."
The board's decision (and I was not there as a voting member, but simply as the person who was handling most of the newspaper's political coverage) was quickly made and later that week our editorial endorsing the Webster candidacy was published. We didn't need to be in that much of a hurry. There was never any race to endorse the attorney general. In fact, Webster was only endorsed by two newspapers, The Press and the Joplin Globe. The Press, however, was the only newspaper to endorse him twice.
The memories of that meeting came back to me when I read an e-mail Friday from University of Missouri Extension specialist David Burton asking for feedback on the question that is in the headline for this post- Do editorial endorsements matter?"
I would say they are still important, but nowhere near as important as they were in the past. They are not going to have any effect on those who made up their minds before the race got underway. Those who are going to vote for Democratic candidates no matter what are not going to change, and the same applies for those who are only going to vote for Republican candidates.
For those whose minds are not made up, a well-reasoned endorsement could make a difference, especially if the editorial board that makes that endorsement goes about the process in an evenhanded fashion.
Such an approach can be seen in the way the Springfield News-Leader endorses candidates. It has endorsed candidates from both of the major parties and has quite obviously not taken the responsibility lightly.
In two of the major races affecting the Springfield area, the News-Leader Editorial Board showed its independence, supporting Jim Talent, the Republican candidate, for U. S. Senator, and Doug Harpool, the Democratic candidate, for State Senate.
The same approach is seen from the newspapers in Missouri's two largest cities, the Kansas City Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On the other hand, is is hard to take seriously anything that is written on the editorial pages of the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian since its publisher has poured a considerable amount of money into the Republican party and its candidates.
Check out Springfield News-Leader Editorial Page Editor Tony Messenger's take on David Burton's question in today's column.