We're now into newspaper endorsement season, which we'll be following with some closeness over the next couple of weeks. We don't do this because newspaper endorsements have an especially large impact on election results: In our experience, they usually don't. But these endorsements often tell quite a bit about both the newspapers and the candidates they endorse, and those they don't.
An October 3 editorial in the Yakima Herald-Republic, which was not an endorsement at all but rather about an incident in the endorsement process, makes the point.
Like many other newspapers which endorse (not all do), the Herald-Republic customarily interviews the candidates first, often and preferably with both in the room at the same time. That paper has done these interviews for a long time, apparently decades at least, and none of the candidates solicited has turned down an interview, until now.
That declinee would be incumbent Republican Representative Doc Hastings, seeking his seventh term in Congress. He sent the paper a note outlining his reasons: "I'm certain you understand that during each election year candidates for public office are approached by a wide range of organizations and media outlets desiring to make endorsements in their races. Of course, common sense dictates that candidates decide on a case-by-case basis which media and other endorsements to seek. In my case, since I'm not seeking the Herald-Republic's endorsement, it won't be necessary to include me in your endorsement interview schedule this year."
The Herald-Republic mused, "Instead, Hastings is apparently more comfortable with an Oct. 31 session with his hometown Tri-City Herald, which endorsed him two years ago - while we endorsed his opponent, Democrat Sandy Matheson. Surely that development wouldn't influence Hastings' decision to turn us down this year. Or would it?"
The paper then concluded it would: "His statement indicates he'll pick and choose those he will grace with his presence. And, while that is certainly his right, that's a shame, too, because it could tarnish by implication the endorsement process of other organizations and media outlets. Do his actions suggest he will only meet with those he thinks will rubber-stamp his re-election bid?"
In Hastings' previous runs, the Herald-Republic endorsed him twice and his opponent four times. Especially in this year's environment, when Hastings' new role as House ethics chair is getting increasingly tough to defend, Hastings' Democratic opponent Richard Wright (a decent candidate who still seems a longshot to win on November 7) looks like a fair bet to win the H-R nod.
Still, as the Yakima paper noted, all this has a tendency to degrade the political conversation, forcing even newspapers which make a real effort at neutrality into a partisan corner. That's not a positive note in an increasingly harsh campaign season.