Will This Globe Endorsement Sink John Tierney?

These can’t be fun days in the Tierney household. Aside from the usual family discord, U.S. Representative John Tierney has lately had to deal with the increasing likelihood that he’s going to lose his re-election campaign to former state senator Richard Tisei. This morning brought more bad news for the Salem Democrat: the normally liberal leaning Boston Globe endorsed Tisei, a Republican. The Globe editorial reads:

Tisei’s mix of libertarianism and fiscal conservatism makes an excellent blueprint for New England Republicans. Even as the national Republican Party veered to the right during Tisei’s years on Beacon Hill, he avoided hot-button social issues and instead staked out a common-sense, reform-oriented direction for the Senate GOP caucus. That approach eventually yielded results; Tisei and other legislative Republicans were pushing nuts-and-bolts pension reforms, for instance, well before the Legislature as a whole was willing to implement similar ideas.

The perennial question with newspaper endorsements, though, is do they matter? With the Globe, it’s often tough to tell, since people usually expect them to endorse the Democratic candidate, and when they do, it’s not exactly a big deal. Besides, more often than not here in Massachusetts, that Democrat would have won anyway, even without the Globe’s backing.

But let’s look to the last time that the paper made waves with a surprise endorsement: during the 2009 Massachusetts Democratic Senate Primary—the race to replace Ted Kennedy—the Globe threw its support behind underdog City Year founder Alan Khazei, shunning the front-running Martha Coakley (maybe they were on to something). In Suffolk University and UNH polls directly preceding the endorsement, Khazei registered 3 and 6 percent support, respectively. But after the endorsement, which came on November 29, 2009, Khazei had a new sheen of legitimacy. Running ads touting the Globe’s backing, he built up a bit of momentum. The vote for the primary was held on December 8, and though Coakley still won in a landslide, Khazei was able to grab 13 percent of the vote, a dramatic improvement from how he was performing in those polls. While we can’t know how much of that improvement can really be attributed to the Globe, the correlation is at least there.

Just as the paper’s endorsement provided cover for people to vote for a novice candidate like Khazei, it’s not hard to imagine that their backing of Tisei could provide moral cover for normally Democratic voters to pull the lever for Tisei. The circumstances of the Tierney-Tisei race are certainly very different from that Massachusetts primary, so it’s a bit perilous to draw too straight a comparison. And certainly, Tisei’s momentum has been building (at this point, the Globe endorsement is almost like piling on.) But by the same token, if recent history is any precedent, the endorsement could well have a substantial impact. It’d be no surprise if we look back at it as the final nail in Tierney’s coffin.