Gephardt will throw his support behind Clinton Thursday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Another big-name endorsement for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. Former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt announced his support for the junior senator from New York Thursday.
The long-time former congressman from Missouri could help Clinton out in the neighboring state of Iowa, which kicks off the presidential primary calendar. Gephardt’s a known commodity in Iowa. He won the Iowa caucuses when he first ran for president in 1988. But Gephardt didn’t fare nearly as well in Iowa when he made another stab at the White House in 2004. That year, he dropped his bid one day after finishing fourth in the caucuses.
The larger question concerning these big-name endorsements: do they really matter? The answer, as in many things in politics, is yes and no.
Campaigns love to unveil these big-name endorsements because, as political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says, “They are trying to create a sense of momentum, a sense of a bandwagon effect.”
But do they? Endorsements are successful only if they pay off. Rothenberg says “endorsements can matter if they can somehow translate into fundraising, or if they can somehow transfer into grassroots support.”
Whether they actually do is another matter.
“In high-profile races where voters see and hear candidates on a regular basis and evaluate them for themselves, endorsements don’t matter for a lick,” says Rothenberg. And sometimes they can backfire.
Remember who spoke these dramatic words: “I’m very proud and honored to endorse Howard Dean to be the next President of the United States of America.”
That was former Vice President Al Gore, officially throwing his support behind then-Democratic presidential frontrunner Dean in December 2003. The Dean camp saw Gore’s endorsement as a sign that the mainstream of the Democratic Party was backing the former Vermont governor’s grassroots campaign.
“But some people apparently saw that as Howard Dean as no longer the insurgent reform candidate, that he’s part of the establishment, and they saw that as an unappealing quality,” says Rothenberg.
Just one month later, Dean lost in Iowa and New Hampshire, and dropped out shortly afterwards.
Endorsements have the most impact in lower-profile elections, when voters don’t know the candidates very well. In such cases, voters often rely quite heavily on endorsements.
But running for president ain’t the same as running for the school board.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser