WASHINGTON (CNN) - Democratic and Republican candidates stunned by the Des Moines Register’s presidential picks reacted with polite resignation Sunday.
The state’s largest and most influential daily made the announcement with less than three weeks to go before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
The paper’s endorsement of John Edwards during his 2004 presidential run was followed by his surprisingly strong showing in the Democratic caucuses that year, but Sunday the editorial board said it “too seldom saw the 'positive, optimistic' campaign we found appealing” during the last campaign. “His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change."
Edwards disputed the assessment Sunday. "… I'm as positive as I have ever been,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, chalking up the board’s decision to a “fundamental disagreement” on economic policy.
"They seem to believe that you can forge big change in this country by working with oil companies, gas companies, power companies, insurance companies, drug companies," the North Carolina trial attorney said. Clinton, he added, “defends the system,” though he congratulated her for the paper’s nod.
Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are all in a tight fight for the lead in most recent state polls of registered Democratic voters.
Delaware Sen. Joe Biden also congratulated Clinton on CNN’s Late Edition, calling the endorsement “a great coup” for the New York senator. "They had me back there twice. In the editorial, they mentioned I was qualified to be president, but they chose Hillary over me. I can't complain about that.”
Republican candidate Mike Huckabee said he “would have loved to have had” the endorsement, but that he did not think it would not have a major impact on the final vote.
The former Arkansas governor congratulated his rival, saying he had “nothing but utmost respect for John McCain, I think he's one of the most honorable individuals in this nation. … You won't ever hear me saying something unkind or untoward toward this person who I believe to be a great American hero.”
As the Republican race has grown more brutal in recent weeks, the two presidential contenders have refrained from taking shots at each other. The former Arkansas governor is currently leading most recent polls of GOP voters in the Hawkeye State, while John McCain has largely dropped from contention, generally registering single-digit support.
“It would have been disingenuous for me to sit here and say it, oh, doesn't mean anything,” said Huckabee of the paper’s decision. “But on the other hand I believe when the people of Iowa make a decision about who they'll support, I believe it will be me.”
–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand