The art of endorsements

Political endorsements by newspapers don’t carry as much weight today as they once did, but campaigns still scramble for them. They represent a stamp of approval seen by thousands of voters. In less visible races, endorsements can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing.

In Boston, the two major dailies go about endorsements in very similar ways. Politicians troop in to answer questions from the editorial board, which then tries to reach a consensus on which candidate to back. Conventional wisdom holds that The Boston Globe is left-of-center and pro-Democrat, while the Boston Herald is regarded as right-of-center and pro-Republican.

But the publishers of the two newspapers —the men who have the ultimate decision-making authority on endorsements – don’t always fit the stereotypes.

Christopher Mayer, who was selected as the Globe’s publisher last October, switched his registration from Republican to Democrat less than a month later. The move allowed him to vote as a Democrat in the December primary for the US Senate seat that became vacant with the death of Edward M. Kennedy. The Globe endorsed Alan Khazei in that primary. Mayer formally took over the top job at the Globe on Jan. 1.

According to Boston election records, Mayer, a South Boston resident, voted as a Republican in the 2002 state primary and the 2008 presidential primary. He didn’t vote in the 2006 state primary. He switched his registration to Democrat on Nov. 12 last year. Mayer did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Canellos, the Globe’s editorial page editor, said nearly everyone in his department, including columnists, meets with candidates and weighs in on whom to endorse. He says his job is to bring the group to consensus and then bring that consensus to Mayer. “Ultimately, if he doesn’t agree, we don’t do it,” Canellos says.

Asked about Mayer’s politics, Canellos said the publisher has been supportive of the role he believes the Globe’s editorial page should play. “We want to be a voice for the political mainstream in Massachusetts,” Canellos said, defining that as left-of-center on most national issues and in the Democrat-independent range on state issues. Told about Mayer’s switch in registration late last year, Canellos said he had not been aware of it.

Patrick Purcell, the Herald’s publisher, hails from Weston and is unenrolled, which allows him to select whichever ballot he wants on primary day. According to Weston election records, he took the Republican ballot for the presidential primaries in 2000 and 2008 and the Democratic state primary ballot in 2006.

Purcell referred questions to Rachelle Cohen, the editorial page editor of the Herald, who is also an unenrolled voter. She says she suspects Purcell took the Democratic ballot in 2006 to support former Attorney General Thomas Reilly for governor. “We were always very high on Tom Reilly,” she says.

Cohen describes Purcell as fiscally conservative but practical. She says that’s why the Herald endorses candidates in both the Democrat and Republican primaries. “We know we live in one of the bluest states in the nation,” she says.

Cohen says she and her deputy typically make a list of endorsements in lesser races and then present them to Purcell for his review. She says Purcell takes a more active role with higher-profile statewide and presidential races, often sitting in on meetings with the candidates. She says she and Purcell rarely differ when it comes to endorsements. “We’re like an old married couple who finish each other’s sentences,” she says.

The Globe operates similarly. The newspaper’s editorial board makes most of the endorsement calls for lower-profile political races, with the publisher taking a more active role in statewide or congressional campaigns. Renee Loth, who was editor of the Globe’s editorial page from 2000 to 2009, deputy editor from 1994 to 2000, and currently a columnist, says she worked under four different publishers and they all had different styles. Some were hands-off and others were more hands-on, she said.

Mayer, the current Globe publisher, appears to be more hands-on. Mac D’Alessandro, who ran against US Rep. Stephen Lynch in last month’s Democratic primary, says he met with the Globe editorial board and then was called back for a one-on-one meeting with Mayer. He landed the Globe’s endorsement but nevertheless lost the race to the incumbent by a 65-35 margin.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

In this year’s election, most people expect the Globe to endorse Gov. Deval Patrick, the Democrat, and the Herald to endorse Republican Charlie Baker. But you never know. In 1990, the Herald endorsed the Democrat in the race, John Silber, while the Globe backed the Republican, William Weld