HALETHORPE, Md. – Even though former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s endorsement of presidential candidate John McCain was in the spotlight Thursday night, it was only the latest of about 300 presidential endorsements to come from Maryland politicians before Tuesday’s primary.
Sen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been the beneficiaries of most endorsements heading into the contested primary of a heavily Democratic state. But, political analysts say these endorsements rarely help presidential candidates and are more of a reflection of Maryland politics.
“They (endorsements) have almost no affect on the race,” said Michael Cain, the director of St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Center for the Study of Democracy. “They do signal something to other politicians about where people stand.”
Much of the state leadership, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, back Clinton, along with about 150 other Maryland officials. Obama, on the other hand, has the imprimatur of Attorney General Doug Gansler, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Rep. Al Wynn and most of the Maryland General Assembly Democrats.
Obama has been endorsed by 14 state senators and 32 delegates, while Clinton is the choice of six senators and 19 delegates.
Officials have many reasons for making endorsements, University of Maryland, Baltimore County Political Science Professor Thomas Schaller said, but a main reason is their political identity. Clinton is seen as the moderate candidate, while Obama is seen as more liberal.
O’Malley and Gansler’s differing endorsements, Schaller said, reflect the historic tension between their ideologies. Both officials probably acted off of their political leanings, Schaller said, and not in spite when making their endorsements.
“The endorsements often times create strange bedfellows and sometimes create enmity . . .,” Schaller said. “Part of it’s ideology and part of it’s intra-party politics.”
High-profile endorsements can sometimes help a candidate in a close race, Schaller said, but often have no effect.
Take Massachusetts, for example, Schaller said, where Clinton won even though the state’s best-known political figures — Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. John Kerry and Gov. Deval Patrick — supported Obama.
“You can hardly hit a better trifecta than that and Obama still lost,” Schaller said. “People are going to vote for the candidate of their preference.”
The biggest benefit of endorsements, Schaller said, is the political organization an official can provide.
Ehrlich endorsed McCain Thursday night at the Baltimore County Republicans Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner only hours after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out of the race and established McCain as the clear front-runner in the Republican primary.
Ehrlich encouraged the dinner guests to support McCain, even if he wasn’t their first choice, to ensure Clinton or Obama don’t win November’s general election.
“This is a bottom-line business. You win or you lose. So how are we going to do it?” Ehrlich said. “How about a true patriot, a war hero, a budget hawk, a pork buster, a tax cutter, a straight talker?”
Ehrlich’s endorsement will have almost no effect on the race, Cain said, but signals he is willing to back the presumptive nominee.
Many Romney supporters were at the dinner because the former Massachusetts governor had been scheduled to speak there until he suspended his campaign. They were still showing their support with shirts and buttons. But, those differences will be put aside, Maryland Republican Chairman Jim Pelura said, now that McCain is the leading candidate.
“I can tell you there are supporters of every major Republican candidate in that room,” Pelura said. “Bottom line is we will all come behind the Republican philosophy.”
McCain has ties to Maryland since he entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1954. He drew laughs from the crowd of about 360 by referring to Baltimore County as “Bawlmer County” and joking with Ehrlich, who lost his re-election to O’Malley, with a short story about two prison inmates in line for food when one looked at the other and said, “The food was a lot better here when you were here governor.”
McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, drew the greatest support from the crowd when talking about his position on the Iraq War.
“A date of withdrawal from Iraq means a date for surrender,” McCain said to a standing ovation. “And I will never surrender.”