Attorney General Frank White sent a letter last week to the Tampa Bay Times, declining their invitation to appear before the paper’s editorial board. And he wasn’t even nice about it:
“While I appreciate your invitation to sit before the Times Editorial Board to have my conservative views mocked and ridiculed, I respectfully decline,” the letter reads. “Just as I would not seek an endorsement from Emily’s List or the ACLU, I do not wish to receive yours.”
That’s because White knows what other smart Republican candidates know: newspaper endorsements don’t matter anymore. At all. Few voters, save for those caught in a time warp in a dusty town with only one gas station (and no internet connection), actually base their voting decisions on recommendations from the local newspaper. In part because fewer people trust the local paper in the first place, and in part because only a handful of people actually read the paper anyway. It does make for some excellent fishwrap, though.
Oh, sure, some campaign consultants will tell you that newspaper endorsements matter. But consultants won’t quantify how much newspaper endorsements matter, and that’s because, as previously stated, they don’t. Still, some campaign consultants need newspaper endorsements so they can plaster them on mail pieces or in television commercials. Especially when they don’t have much else to say about their candidate.
But to the extent that newspaper endorsements already didn’t matter when in the actual newspaper, they especially don’t matter when a voter glimpses a direct mail piece or TV ad for a split second before tossing it in the trash or fast forwarding through the commercials.
Want some anecdotal evidence to back it up? In the 2010 campaign for Florida governor, Democrat Alex Sink won sixteen out of sixteen newspaper endorsements, and still managed to lose the general election to Rick Scott. Scott, like Frank White, rejected all invitiations to sit down with newspaper editorial boards. This shocked the Florida political establishment and went against conventional wisdom. At that time, it was still widely thought by many that newspaper endorsements actually did matter.
But they didn’t. And still don’t. Nor are they likely to ever again matter.
Some campaign consultants will tell you the newspaper endorsements didn’t matter that time only because Rick Scott spent $70 million, mostly on television, and because of that he was able to overcome the distinct lack of endorsements from the state’s previously-respected opinion leaders, plastered across his direct mail and television ads. Instead, Rick Scott was forced to plaster his TV ads with other useful information, such as, for instance, the fact that Alex Sink got caught cheating by CNN during a live, nationally-televised debate.
Good news for Rick Scott: those kinds of things matter to voters. Newspaper endorsements don’t matter. At all.
But in Frank White’s case, he doesn’t have $70 million to spend on television, and for that reason, some think he’s making a strategic error in slapping the Tampa Bay Times.
Certainly, in rejecting the Times’ invitation so bluntly, White risks drawing the ire of the editorial board, who can wax lyrically about how much they respect and admire White’s political opponents, how White lacks qualifications the Times deems important, and so on. But opinion pieces from embittered liberal editors don’t really matter much anymore either. After all, opinions are like…you know…everyone’s got one.
Perhaps if the editors were to pull out all of the stops and write opinion column after opinion column about their collective disdain for Frank White, they could perhaps overwhelm Google’s search algorithms and bury any positive news about him and his campaign for attorney general. But that would require a lot of writing, and only on one topic, which would get rather tiresome. After all, the Times newspaper editors have more important opinions they want to share with you, such as their views about the wonderful organization that is Planned Parenthood, or how Brett Kavanaugh is actually “qualified” to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice, but (eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed into a look of utmost seriousness), he must be “thoroughly vetted.” As if their readers didn’t have any clue about such things and needed 600+ words from Tim Nickens and his comrades to grasp those elusive facts.
But White’s decision to spurn the Times’ invitation is much more than him just picking low-hanging fruit from the tree of ideological rhetoric.
If most voters have little regard for the opinions of newspaper editors, most Republican primary voters harbor outright disdain. White’s letter captures that disdain, crystallizes it, and holds it out for all to see. But more than that, now that he’s done so, he’s forced his primary opponent into a Hobson’s choice of accepting the endorsement from the liberal editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times, or following White’s lead and accepting none at all.