Given how much attention the Union Leader's endorsement of Newt Gingrich last month received, it's worth at least noting that the second highest-profile paper in New Hampshire today endorsed...Jon Huntsman! The Concord Monitor declared that the Harley-driving former Utah governor is a "consistent but never doctrinaire conservative" who "would present the greatest challenge to Obama" and "if elected, he would provide mature, informed and steady leadership." Now, granted I'm a little biased, having spent a couple years as a reporter at the Monitor, but there's a case to be made that it carries its own sort of influence in the state. Just not necessarily the sort of influence that Huntsman wants as he now tries to make the case that he is in fact the true conservative in the Republican field. Because, let's face it, the Monitor is perceived as...not exactly conservative. It's a terrific small paper that hits far above its weight, but it has also for years fashioned itself as the beacon of progressivism in Live Free or Die land, the counterweight of sorts to the larger Union Leader.
Still, this might just help Huntsman with the voters who are his likeliest supporters, just not the ones he is trying to reach with ads trumpeting praise by blogger Erick Erickson: the old-style Warren Rudmanesque Republicans that still remain in the state, the right-leaning independent voters who vote in the primary, and yes, even some truly centrist or left-leaning independents who might decide to cast a vote for the hell of it. It's also worth noting that the Monitor's recent record of endorsing New Hampshire winners is strong on both the Republican than Democratic side. It endorsed John McCain in both 2000 and 2008, and he won the state both times. On the Democratic side, where its word probably carries more weight, it has shown a clear preference for the establishment candidates, to the consternation of many of the state's non-office holding liberals. It backed Al Gore in 2000 (when he beat Bill Bradley by a narrow margin), John Kerry in 2004 and Hillary in 2008.
The Monitor's highest-profile declaration, though, may have been its "unendorsement" of Mitt Romney exactly four years ago. Shortly before endorsing McCain, the paper ran a brutal editorial under the headline "Romney Should Not Be The Next President," which concluded with a takedown as as hard-edged as anything Romney has gotten from the Union Leader, also no fan of his:
When New Hampshire partisans are asked to defend the state's first-in-the-nation primary, we talk about our ability to see the candidates up close, ask tough questions and see through the baloney. If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world, we'll know it.
If you believe the polls, it's looking likely that this same candidate has, through sheer high-dollar persistence and a weak field, arrived at the point of winning over these same baloney-detecting voters. But if there's a late Huntsman wave, the Monitor will surely get some of the credit.