Big endorsements across state

'Tis the season for endorsements.

With about eight months to go before the first votes will be cast in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, Democratic and Republican contenders are rapidly piling up what they consider key endorsements by prominent New Hampshire politicians and political activists.

In the past two days, the campaigns of Democratic hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois have secured the support of longtime state politicians.

On Tuesday in Concord, Senate President Sylvia Larsen of Concord announced she was endorsing Clinton because of her vast experience and leadership qualities.

"We must elect a president who can hit the ground running," said Larsen, a seven-term senator who became the 39th state legislator to publicly support Clinton. "I believe she is a moderate consensus builder."

Larsen joined a group of 500 women in the state who announced last month they were supporting Clinton's White House bid.

On Monday, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth, one of Larsen's Statehouse colleagues, announced her support of Obama, as did three other Democrats with deep activist roots in the state — former state Rep. Jim Demurs, who ran statewide primary operations for Dick Gephardt and Al Gore; former state party Chairman Ned Helms, who now directs the New Hampshire Institute for Health Policy and Practice at the University of New Hampshire; and Mary Rauh of New Castle, a former congressional candidate and chairwoman of The Women's Fund of New Hampshire, a nonprofit philanthropic organization.

Rauh, who supported Bill Bradley in 2000, told the Herald she believes that Obama's candidacy has the ability to be "transformational ... to transcend the viciousness of partisan politics. He is the political leader we need to change the political tone of the country."

As an example of the wide range of constituencies that candidates are trying to attract, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona recently formed the "Sportsmen Coalition," which has four co-chairs, all with previous involvement with the state Fish and Game Department.

Republican Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist, has secured the support of Seacoast region business leaders such as Gary Levy of Portsmouth, Jackie Eastwood of Durham and Michael Kane of New Castle.

While campaigns try to create a publicity stir with each endorsement, their ultimate value is hard to quantify.

"They don't mean much in a state like New Hampshire, because every citizen can see a candidate for themselves," said Charlie Arlinghaus, former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party and president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy in Concord. "They mean a lot more to long-shot candidates than front-runners."

But they can have practical applications for voters. Arlinghaus said endorsements act as a "better housekeeping seal" that reinforces previously held notions (positive or negative) held by voters.




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