Sunday, February 24, 2008

The value of newspaper endorsements in the 2008 Cook County judicial primary

Ross Eagle, husband and law partner of Diane L. Kenworthy, who recently won the nomination of the Democratic Party to the Morrissey vacancy in the 10th Subcircuit, wrote me a note analyzing the role newspaper endorsements played in determining the outcome of the recent primaries. "I never seem to see any after-action report from the newspapers about how often their endorsed candidate prevailed," Eagle wrote -- and then supplied one.

Eagle may have been inspired by the fact that his wife was snubbed by both the Tribune and the Sun-Times (both papers endorsed John Mulroe). Whatever his inspiration, Eagle's analysis was quite interesting.

First, Eagle noted, the daily papers' endorsements were a very good predictor of outcomes in the countywide races. Depending on how the Ryan/Lingo contest for the Murphy vacancy comes out (the last coverage I saw was a Law Bulletin article from February 12 which suggested that provisional votes were still being counted and both sides were gearing up for a possible discovery recount -- with Ryan holding a nearly 1,500 vote advantage) the Tribune may have called the winners in every single one of the nine countywide races. Again, depending on the outcome of the Ryan/Lingo race, the Sun-Times will finish either 7-2 or 6-3.

(Paula Lingo was endorsed by both papers.)

Eagle wrote that the newspaper endorsements "might be overrated when it comes to subcircuit races." Certainly the Tribune's endorsed candidates in these races did not fare nearly as well. Eight of 18 candidates endorsed by the Tribune in the subcircuits were defeated -- with another, Stephen Stern, behind by about 100 votes to Dominique C. Ross in the too-close-to-call race for the A vacancy in the 5th Subcircuit.

Candidates endorsed by the Sun-Times fared even worse: The Sun-Times made endorsements in 19 subcircuit races (the Trib chose not to pick a Republican in the 12th Subcircuit race), but at least 10 of these candidates were defeated -- and possibly 11, depending on how Stern fares in a likely recount.

Stern, like Lingo, was endorsed by both papers. According to Eagle's count at least six other subcircuit candidates were endorsed by both papers... and still lost.

Of course, the newspapers chose not to explain their choices, particularly in the subcircuits. The Tribune provided only the job titles of the subcircuit candidates it endorsed ("Judge", "Assistant State's Attorney", the ever-illuminating "Attorney", etc.). The Sun-Times didn't even provide that much; except in six races (one countywide, one subcircuit) the Sun-Times provided only the names of the candidates it favored.

On the other hand, even in the subcircuit races where the Sun-Times offered some insight into its selections, the paper still went only 2-3. Two of those three 'losses' came in the 10th Subcircuit. Eagle observed that, while the Sun-Times endorsed none of the three winners in the 10th Subcircuit races, the Democratic Party was only 1-2 (Kenworthy being the lone slated candidate to prevail) and the Tribune was only 1-2 as well (it endorsed Ursula Walowski for the Kowalski vacancy).

Further analysis is surely in order.

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