Presidential candidates are also always eager to snag high-profile endorsements from prominent elected officials to add luster to their campaigns. In that secondary level of competition, Hillary Clinton reigns supreme among Democrats and Republicans alike while Donald Trump is at rock bottom.
In the latest tally by the political blog FiveThirtyEight, Clinton has attracted the endorsements of nearly 200 major politicians, including governors, U.S. representatives and senators, while the billionaire and political juggernaut has garnered none.
Clinton’s vast array of supporters from Democratic officialdom is hardly a surprise. Early in the campaign, when the former Secretary of State appeared to be the undisputed frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic nomination, scores of lawmakers she once served with and Democratic governors across the country quickly climbed aboard her campaign.
Democratic lawmakers such as Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, as well as Governors Jay Nixon of Missouri, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania all signed on.
That was before Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old democratic socialist, captured the imagination of the liberal wing of their party and soared in the polls and fundraising last summer. Clinton, meanwhile, struggled to regain her footing and overcome controversies around her handling of sensitive email at the State Department and big speaking fees and contributions from special interests.
Sanders, for now, has only two endorsements to his credit: Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Raul Grijalva of Arizona. But he is doing so well in the polls against Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire that he probably could care less at this point.
Although endorsements don’t necessarily translate into victory, political scientists often cite the importance of the “invisible primary,” in which party “elites” often coalesce around candidates they find most acceptable.
Frequently, rank-and-file voters have followed the lead of the elites – but certainly not always. And in an election year like this one, when voters prefer “outsiders” to establishment politicians, these endorsements may have far less clout.
Trump, of course, would count his endorsement last week from Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, as a major plus for his campaign as he battles Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for supremacy in next week’s crucial Iowa caucuses. The same holds for the endorsement Trump received Tuesday from Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
And it’s only a matter of time before others such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who advised Trump on his proposals for cracking down on illegal immigration, will step up and board the Trump express. On Tuesday, word came that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Zriz., was expected to announce his endorsement.
“I talk to senators that frankly want to come out and endorse me, it’s amazing what’s happened over the last two weeks,” he said. “Over the last two weeks, so many people are calling and saying, ‘We want to get involved with you, we want to endorse you.’ We have a powerful endorsement coming down today.”
Yet for now, Trump ranks at the bottom of the heap. The political analysis site 538 uses a weighted scoring system for measuring the intensity of the endorsements for candidates this year: An endorsement by a House member earns a candidate one point, a senator counts five points and an endorsement from a governor counts 10.
So by that measurement, Clinton tops all others with 459 points, followed by former Republican governor Jeb Bush of Florida with 51 points, GOP Florida Sen. Marco Rubio with 43, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee with 26 points each, Sanders with just two points, and Trump with zero.
Newspaper editorial page endorsements are still considered valuable to have – especially in states like Iowa or New Hampshire where a little extra boost from a respected publication could tip the balance in a very tight race. Here again, Clinton has done well, gaining seven endorsements so far, including from the Des Moines Register, the Boston Globe, and the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.
Rubio snared the endorsement of the Des Moines Register in the Republican contest in Iowa, a feather in his cap as he trails Trump and Cruz in the Hawkeye State. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is also badly trailing Trump, has picked up eight newspaper endorsements so far, including from the Storm Lake Times in Iowa, the Portsmouth Herald, the Concord Monitor and Nashua Telegraph all in New Hampshire, and the Boston Globe.
Sanders has received just three endorsements from publications, including The Nation, a liberal publication, while Trump still has none. In fact, one conservative publication, The National Review, devoted the better part of an issue arguing against Trump’s qualifications for president.