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What If The Des Moines Register Endorses Biden?

It’s a long-shot, I know. But consider the following:

1.) The Register’s own David Yepsen raved about Biden’s performance in the paper's debate yesterday. Given the Register’s self-importance—it aggressively promotes its debate as the leading event in the run-up to the caucuses—it wouldn’t shock me if it decided to go with the debate’s (Yepsen-appointed) winner.

2.) Local papers like the Register tend to fancy themselves guardians of civility and substantive inquiry—the opposite of the muckety-mucks in the national media who obsess over polls and other horse-race ephemera. (The Register’s editor, Carolyn Mashburn, kicked off the debates by stating high-mindedly that she planned to focus on less-talked about issues--as opposed to the ones that, you know, might stir some debate.) This is partly what led to the paper’s Edwards endorsement in 2004, when he was still a relative long-shot. And you could see a similar logic leading to Biden, who has the most foreign policy experience of any candidate running. (Obviously it wouldn’t be the exact same logic, since Edwards was relatively inexperienced. But the Register really fell in love with his "two Americas" schema, which was a pretty substantive critique of the Bush administration.)

3.) Part of Biden’s strategy has been to aggressively court local Iowa papers. (Though, when it comes to the DMR, everyone’s in the courting game. Hillary, for one, has been no less aggressive in reaching out to the paper’s editorial brass.)

All of which is to say, it wouldn’t shock me if Biden got the nod. And that raises a another question: Who would a Biden endorsement hurt? When I floated my Biden speculation by my colleague John Judis this morning, his immediate reaction was: Bad for Hillary. I agree. Hillary has been working hard to sell herself as the candidate of experience. And, relative to the other two front-runners, there’s a lot of truth to that claim. But Biden's one person HIllary can't compete with here. If it’s true that a lot of Hillary’s support comes from people who value experience, an endorsement of Biden—which would surely talk up his resume at length—could mean real trouble for her.

P.S. In the context of a possible Register endorsement, Obama’s defense of Biden’s record on race yesterday looks like a two-fer: First, it made Obama look magnanimous, which Iowa voters supposedly love. Second, it shored up Biden in the eyes of the Register editors, who were concerned enough about Biden’s recent racial gaffes to bring them up explicitly.

P.P.S. On the off chance it didn’t come through here, let me just say that I find it alarming—and alarmingly anti-Democratic—that a local paper has so much influence over who becomes the nominee. And that’s not just my East-Coast elitism talking. It’s talking, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only reason I feel this way. I'd be almost as alarmed if the editors of The New Republic or The New York Times had the same influence over the process. (Right, right, so would you. Go ahead and comment away on that…)

Update: Okay, maybe a longer shot than I thought. Just got word from a reasonably informed source--someone not in a position to know with certainty, but in a position to know what various Democratic campaign insiders expect--that it's going to be Edwards again. We'll find out Sunday...

Second Update: Another Democratic insider says Obama. This just underscores the futility of trying to "report" this out. I'm sticking with my original Biden pick, long odds notwithstanding.

Third Update: The Times' Jeff Zeleny has a nice piece today about the extraordinary effort expended by the campaigns (especially the Clinton campaign) on courting the Register. The last graf is especially revealing:

The campaigns intend to deploy young aides to the printing presses at the edge of town on Saturday night, looking for an early copy even before the endorsement appears on the paper’s Web site.

--Noam Scheiber