The Providence Journal's endorsement of Barack Obama is its first for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades. The paper's Sunday editorial lauded Obama's "self-discipline, calm, intelligence, experiences, eloquence and ability to reach out to a panorama of Americans with widely different backgrounds."
Sen. John McCain, the Journal editors wrote, "used to be a deficit hawk, who warned about the effects on our over-indebted society of federal budget deficits" but has recently abandoned his fiscally responsible mentality. The editors also criticized McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee, who though "intelligent and often engaging ... has not yet shown the breadth of knowledge, the judgment or the temperament needed to be a good president."
In recent years the Journal has endorsed Republican George W. Bush twice for president, Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 and then-Republican former Sen. Lincoln Chafee '75, but has gone blue this year. Its other endorsements of Democratic candidates include Congressmen Patrick Kennedy, James Langevin and Barney Frank, D-Mass., architect of the recent $700 billion bailout plan.
The Journal, though often identified as a Republican-leaning paper, does not shy away from Democrats as a rule.
"I'm not the least bit surprised," M. Charles Bakst '66, the Journal's recently retired political columnist, said of its endorsement of Obama. He added that he thinks it is a misconception that the ProJo only endorses Republicans.
"Some of the paper's social values are pretty liberal," he said.
Bakst wrote a column one week after Bill Clinton handily defeated Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election, detailing the Journal's frequent - and overlooked - support of local Democratic politicians.
A year later, in 1997, the locally owned Journal was bought by the Texas-based A.H. Belo Corp., which also owns the Dallas Morning News. The News, which has consistently endorsed Republican candidates, endorsed McCain last week.
The Journal's support for Obama on Sunday set the state's blogosphere abuzz.
Matt Jerzyk '99, editor of political blog Rhode Island's Future, said that the newspaper has "gone incredibly right" since it was bought by Belo. But Jerzyk said the company's influence is only one of several factors affecting the paper's endorsements.
Jerzyk said three factors - the wishes of the "top brass" in Dallas, the paper's readership and the views of the editorial board itself - influence its endorsements.
The board, which Jerzyk called "conservative with a libertarian leaning," includes some supporters of universal health care and ane alternative energy advocate. Robert Whitcomb, editorial page editor, coauthored "Cape Wind," a book about wind turbines in Cape Cod.
Jerzyk suggested the editorial board was "split down the middle" politically, but said it was telling that the endorsement came in the midst of the paper's own financial crisis. After offering many of its employees a buyout this summer, the Journal reported earlier this month that it had laid off an additional 31 part-time and full-time employees.
"In a decision like this, upper management thinks, 'We should go McCain' (while) readership is 62, 64 percent for Obama," he said.
"But considering the plummeting circulation numbers at the paper (and) layoffs ... they may have felt a little out of touch with working class average Rhode Islanders."
State Representative David Segal, D-Dist. 2, who also blogs for Rhode Island's Future, said he was pleasantly surprised by the "extremely conciliatory" endorsement, but did not think it would make a difference in the general election.
"I am confident that it won't make a difference. ... It's a blue state anyway," Segal said. "Maybe two or three people will change their vote."
Many people who would normally vote for McCain are endorsing Obama, Bakst said, predicting that the election will be "a blowout."