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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Greg Jayne

Jayne: Endorsements can be valuable

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: June 29, 2024, 6:02am

Admittedly, most of us have better things to do.

Well, most of you do. But for me, digging into the political weeds happens to be my job. And because I would like to continue getting paid, I do not have a lot of better things to do.

So, I try to learn about the issues and the candidates, this year reading about races ranging from Clark Public Utilities commissioner to president of the United States — all for the purpose of trying to help inform our readers.

And part of being informed means being aware of endorsements. You know, the self-important political exercise in which a prominent person or elected official throws their support behind a candidate for one office or another. As if the average voter cares about what a particular elected official has to say about somebody else’s campaign.

The first question, obviously, is whether or not endorsements matter. To that, the answer is a definite, unequivocal, incontrovertible … er, um, maybe.

It is difficult to imagine that an endorsement for president is going to sway any voters. Nikki Haley endorsed Donald Trump for president to boost her future political career, not because she thought it would influence voters. With this year’s presidential race being a rematch between candidates who have been in the public eye for decades, any voters who claim to be undecided are being disingenuous.

Occasionally, an endorsement for president can be impactful. Research by the University of Maryland estimated that Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement of Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary translated into approximately 1 million additional votes for him.

But that was a rare set of circumstances. Obama was a little-known U.S. senator at the time, and Oprah carried the same cultural clout currently enjoyed by Taylor Swift.

Anyway, the reason endorsements might influence some voters is effectively summed up by Forbes.com: “Our capacity to engage in effortful thought is limited and, believe it or not, few people want to spend their precious cognitive energy on politics. The fact is that it’s much easier to follow the party line than to evaluate the merits and shortcomings of each and every political policy.”

The same can be said about political offices. Most voters spend no more than a couple minutes with the Voters’ Pamphlet before marking their ballot for, say, a state legislative race. It’s just human nature.

That is why endorsements can be more helpful when it comes to down-ballot races, where voters have less familiarity with the candidates. And that is why some local races are particularly interesting this year — at least to those of us who enjoy digging into the weeds.

The Columbian’s Editorial Board this week interviewed candidates for Clark County Council, District 3. And although council positions are nonpartisan, the endorsements surrounding this race tell part of the story.

Wil Fuentes is endorsed by Sharon Wylie, Annette Cleveland and Monica Stonier — all Democratic legislators from the 49th District. John Jay is endorsed by Paul Harris, Greg Cheney, Kevin Waters and Stephanie McClintock — all Republican legislators. Chuck Keplar has the endorsement of the Clark County Republican Party but makes no mention of it on his website and did not mention it in an interview with the Editorial Board.

To be clear, they all are strong candidates and effectively articulated their positions (video is on YouTube). The Editorial Board will recommend two of them in the coming weeks and explain our reasoning.

But the endorsements reflect an interesting divide within the Republican Party. The state party and the county party are dominated by MAGA Republicans, the people who believe that Semi Bird is best Republican candidate for governor. Extremism might not be a vice, but it’s a certain way to lose general elections in Washington.

Whether or not endorsements matter is one question with no clear answer. Another is whether some endorsements can actually be detrimental to a candidate.

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