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Evaluating our election endorsements

November 25, 2002

Several months ago, I wrote a column about The Herald-Mail and the process we go through to endorse candidates. I had thought maybe it was time for a change in the traditional role of the newspaper, but most people I spoke with disagreed.

I was quite surprised by the response. I fielded several calls before the election from readers asking when our endorsement would run. I even got a few letters.

The sentiment was generally the same: I don't always agree with the newspaper's endorsements, but I want to know what the newspaper thinks.

Our endorsements and my column struck a chord with a few people, generating several letters to the editor, and additional comments from some citizens in the community. They raised questions about our role in the election process and that got me thinking.

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I have never read a post-mortem about a newspaper's endorsements. After all, we are not picking candidates we believe will win. We were trying to pick candidates who, we felt, could do the most good for Washington County.

So do we have liberal or conservative bias? Do we favor Democrats over Republicans?

In more than 25 years of newspapering, I've never gone back after the election to determine what the party split of my newspaper's endorsements were. Nor have I seen how many eventual winners we backed.

This year, I did.

We endorsed seven GOP candidates, and seven Democrats, something I didn't realize until I went back last week and reviewed the endorsements.

Most of our endorsements were difficult calls. Some were controversial, such as selecting newcomer Mary Newby over incumbent Sen. Don Munson for the State Senate.

Sen. Munson got the final word, though, trouncing Newby by winning 70 percent of the vote.

As for the horse race, nine of the candidates we backed won, and five lost.

As I said several months ago, a newspaper endorsement may make a slight difference in a close race. Then again, it may not.

Just ask Leroy Myers. We endorsed his opponent, Casper Taylor, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and one of the most powerful politicians in the state. The Cumberland newspaper also endorsed Taylor.

Yet, Myers scored the biggest upset in Maryland on Election Day, narrowly edging Taylor for a House seat representing western Washington County and eastern Allegany County.

As a footnote, for the first time, two candidates actually asked me for the paper's endorsement. (One received an endorsement; one did not.) And, for the first time, two candidates actually thanked me for receiving them.

So viewing our endorsements in a post-election light, I would argue that we were neither liberally biased nor party-oriented. We just offered our opinion as to who would do a good job. Some voters agreed with us and some did not.

Again, it's in that spirit that we endorse candidates.

For the winners, their preparation to hold elective office begins in earnest the day after the election. Many county officials will take office shortly, while the Maryland lawmakers convene in Annapolis in early January.

Our state and local officials will begin grappling with issues such as budget shortfalls, the drive to legalize gambling in Maryland, and the largest prize to come Washington County's way in years: construction of the University of Maryland System campus in Hagerstown.

We wish them luck, and much success.




John League is editor and publisher of The Herald-Mail. He can be contacted at 301-733-5131, extension 7073, or by e-mail at jleague@herald-mail.com.


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