/Des Moines Register editorial board endorses Elizabeth Warren for president

Des Moines Register editorial board endorses Elizabeth Warren for president

DES MOINES — The Des Moines Register’s editorial board has endorsed U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren for president, arguing her ideas are needed at a moment “when the very fabric of American life is at stake.”

“She is a thinker, a policy wonk and a hard worker,” the board wrote in its endorsement. “She remembers her own family’s struggles to make ends meet and her own desperation as a working mother needing child care. She cares about people, and she will use her seemingly endless energy and passion to fight for them.”

The endorsement, which appeared online Saturday, comes just days before Iowans go to caucus Feb. 3 and amid a still-unsettled field of Democratic candidates.

What it means

Rachel Paine Caufield, a professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and author of the book “The Iowa Caucus,” noted there are two conversations going on around the election right now: A national conversation and a local one.

“The Des Moines Register is at the heart of that local conversation,” she said. “And they’re doing it long before most of America is paying attention.”

So while the Iowa caucuses are definitely of national interest, they are also a very local thing, and the Register endorsement still carries local interest, Caufield said.

The Register has endorsed candidates since the 1988 caucuses. In 2016 the board endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Marco Rubio.

Caufield noted there are still many caucusgoers who are undecided about which candidate to caucus for and “(The endorsement) lends legitimacy and credibility to a campaign’s … case to the voters.”

In the most recent Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll conducted earlier this month, only 40% of likely Democratic caucusgoers had made up their mind about who to caucus for.

In the next week-plus, while campaigns make their final pitch to caucusgoers, the endorsement can offer an injection of energy.

“These final days before the caucus, momentum matters a great deal, the energy behind a campaign matters,” Caufield said. “I think it really helps (campaigns) make that final case.”

For the candidates who didn’t get the endorsement, “it could be disappointing to a campaign,” Caufield said. “It could undermine some of its central claims, particularly about electability.”

Carol Hunter, executive editor of the Des Moines Register asks Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., a question as he makes his way through the crowd on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2018, in the living room of a home in Johnston. Buttigieg is exploring a run for president.

Register executive editor Carol Hunter told USA TODAY, “The board starts with a very basic question: Who would be the best president? But also asks who would be the best president for these times? That’s one of the main factors that led us to Elizabeth Warren.

“We feel that income inequality and the tilting of the playing field so much toward the wealthy and away from the middle class has put the American dream at risk.”

In the United States, there was always a belief that if you worked hard, you could offer your children a better life than you had, Hunter said. “We believe that is at risk.

“Elizabeth Warren is someone who has devoted her life’s work to rebuilding the middle class. That’s why we think she’s the best leader for these times.”

The New York Times’ editorial board a week ago punted on a firm decision, choosing instead to endorse both Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Hunter said that wasn’t an option for the Register’s board.

“We could certainly identify with the Times’ dilemma,” Hunter said. “We think there are many candidates in this field who could make a fine president.

“But we think that Iowans going to caucus face making a choice. They can’t stand in two preference groups. So we felt pressure to come up with one name.”

But the board did assess many candidates, “because we do think that many offer different experiences and backgrounds and areas of expertise that also would recommend them for these times.”

“A lot of what we want to do is offer people ways to think about these candidates as they work to arrive at their own decision.”

The Register, part of the USA TODAY Network, published Saturday a separate opinion piece paired with the endorsement, that details the board’s thoughts and reservations about other candidates in the race.

Hunter noted the editorial board’s decision is “not telling anyone how to vote. We offer our views as another piece of information as Iowans go about making their choices.”

Warren was campaigning in Iowa when staff informed her of the news. She looked surprised, and nearly shouted, “I did?!” before doing a little dance.  

She soon after told reporters, “I just heard, and I’m delighted. It really means a lot to me,” according to POLITICO

How the process works

The editorial board invited each of the candidates to meet at the Register’s offices for formal interviews. Nine current candidates accepted the invitation, as well as several who have since left the race. Two Republicans are challenging President Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee in his party. The Register is not endorsing a candidate in the Republican caucus. The news team is separate from the opinion staff and it did not play a role in making the endorsement.

The board wrote that Warren “is not the radical” some perceive her to be. Her ideas aren’t radical, the editorial said. “They are right.”

The board’s members wrote that they like Warren’s plans to target corruption, expand health care, tackle climate change and ensure government works for the people.

But the endorsement did not come without qualification; some of Warren’s ideas “go too far,” it said.

“Some of her ideas for ‘big, structural change’ go too far,” the editorial said. “This board could not endorse the wholesale overhaul of corporate governance or cumulative levels of taxation she proposes. While the board has long supported single-payer health insurance, it believes a gradual transition is the more realistic approach. But Warren is pushing in the right direction.”

The editorial praised Warren’s resilience and courage, saying she has “proven she is tough and fearless.”

“But toughness can also be perceived as divisive, as can rhetoric that vilifies the wealthy, lobbyists and corporations that employ millions of people,” the editorial said. “Relentless attack mode threatens to further fracture a country riven by party, income and racial divides. Unifying the country may not be possible, but to gain the support required to govern, she must show that her vision will lift people up rather than divide them.”

The Register editorial board also shared its thoughts about some of the other candidates in the 2020 field.

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden: The board said he “far outdistances the field in knowledge of foreign policy and familiarity with world leaders” and he has an “unrivaled experience in knowing how to get legislation passed through Congress.” But, the board said it had reservations because he lacked a bold agenda, and in particular lacked expertise on income inequality issues.  
  • Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg: The board described him as “a gifted speaker who demonstrates an impressive command of policy nuances and offers refreshing, common-ground approaches” but said his “eight-year tenure of heading a city the size of Davenport” was not enough preparation to be president. The board added: “His relative lack of support among communities of color also raises questions about his ability to unite the country.” 
  • U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar: The board wrote that her candidacy was appealing because she has a “proven record of working across the aisle to get things done.” But it questioned whether she would be bold enough in needed policies.  
  • U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders: While the board wrote that his campaigns for president has benefited the nation by bringing attention to the “rigged” economy it expressed concern about his ability to build consensus and his routine opposition of trade agreements.  
  • Businessman activist Tom Steyer: The board said it questioned whether “another billionaire businessman with no previous government experience (is) the best choice” after Trump. 
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang: The board said Yang has brought attention to the peril of the coming technological transformation but said his lack of any government experience and the radical nature of his universal basic income plan were drawbacks.   
  • The editorial board also listed U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California as “two voices that are missed.” Both Democrats campaigned significantly in Iowa, including meeting with the editorial board, but dropped out of the race. 

The board did not consider former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii because they have not focused on campaigning in Iowa.  

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.