Salena Zito

The scramble for political endorsements for the 2008 presidential campaigns may go unnoticed by the average voter. But for candidates seeking them, those public declarations by any current or former elected official are a critically important political coup.

Your average news organization will tell you their e-mail in-boxes are flooded daily with endorsement announcements from all of the presidential candidates. Whether the campaigns are large or small, frontrunner or irrelevant, flush with money or living on a prayer – as soon as an endorsement is clinched, an announcement from the campaign will appear.

And while the endorsement that a candidate most lusts after is from a sitting U.S. senator or governor, or a former U.S president, those elite groups are a difficult commitment to snag this early out.

The early endorsements generally come from the state and local levels.

So why the rush to announce that a group of state legislators who have no clout in Washington are coming out to support your candidate?

Well, before you think the endorsement process will come down to whether or not the local dog-catcher favors a presidential candidate, there is a legitimate reason for all this.

Candidates look for endorsements that round-out their resumes by providing credibility on issues on which they are weak. An endorsement also gives them access to donors and political organizations their campaigns can tap into in a particular state or region.

Endorsements can also legitimize a candidate among a select group of voters who care passionately about a core set of concerns, such as social, fiscal or security issues.

Endorsements add infrastructure – political supporters who are passionate about the person endorsing you. Those people then become foot soldiers who circulate petitions, go door to door, and do all of the required grassroots campaigning.

And endorsements give a candidate bona fide credentials within his or her party.

Remember, right now candidates are appealing to a smaller segment of the electorate. Those segments have the power to make a moderate candidate more conservative, or a conservative candidate more acceptable to moderates.

Stephen J. Wayne, American government chairman at Georgetown University in Washington, says early endorsements for the presidential campaigns by themselves do not bring many votes. “But they do add to a candidate's credentials in the sense that most politicians will not endorse candidates with little or no chance to win,” he says.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.