Mitt Romney had a chance with them, but he blew it.
The Plain Dealer's editorial board endorses President Obama in today's paper, ripping Romney for foreign-policy "bluster," a "lack of policy details," and "frequent changes" in positions. "Which Romney would [voters] elect?" the paper asks.
The board was "sorely tempted to endorse Gov. Romney this fall," the piece says -- but the editorial, clearly written by committee, resists the temptation. The pro-Obama argument dominates 12 paragraphs, compared to 6 for Romney.
What happened? The Republican convention, the debates, and Libya. Also, Obama's careful talk about Iran, delivered to the PD in person.
You could see the paper's editorial writers pretty much give up on Romney in September. After his convention speech, they complained he was too vague about his tax and budget plans and how he'd replace Obama's health care law. When Romney blasted Obama right after the Libya and Egypt embassy attacks, the page declared he'd botched the facts and "flunked" a test of his character and ability to be commander-in-chief.
Romney's sudden move to the center in the first debate may have caught Obama off guard and impressed swing voters, but it didn't impress the editors. They cited "the reborn moderate of recent weeks" as yet another example of Romney's shape-shifting.
Before September, I didn't expect this. I thought the Plain Dealer, which swung right to endorse John Kasich and Issue 2, might keep angling right and go for Romney.
But only a few paragraphs of today's editorial seem to bear the stamp of publisher Terry Egger, a Republican who pushed a liberal editorial page to the center in his previous job in St. Louis. The pro-Obama grafs read like the work of editorial page editor Elizabeth Sullivan, a foreign-policy expert who wrote scathing critiques of the Iraq war. She knows that, even though domestic issues decide most elections, presidents have the most power over foreign policy, war and peace.
The president shrewdly courted the PD's endorsement. He granted the editorial board an interview before his September speech in Kent, spending an hour with them in the Kent State basketball coach's office.
Likely well-briefed on Sullivan's interests and opinions, Obama gave her a clear answer about his position on Iran: Basically, he'll attack Iran just before it actually builds a nuclear weapon, but not earlier. Sullivan made that conversation into one of the best pieces I've read about Iran's nuclear program, a column that ought to be required reading on a national level.
Obama's measured responses to Iran and the latest Mideast turmoil reaped rewards with the PD. "Romney's tendency to bluster on foreign policy provides more cause for doubt," the editorial reads. "The United States cannot afford to be drawn into new wars without clear national interests at stake.... Obama has showed that he favors engagement over bluster."
Newspaper endorsements don't matter as much as they used to; there are fewer newspaper readers and undecided voters today. But this endorsement mattered to Obama, and he got it.