David Goldman/AP

Obama, Romney in tight race for newspaper endorsements

About two-thirds of major papers have not yet picked a candidate.

In an election cycle marked by Internet and cable information saturation and the use of micro-targeting to tailor messages to tiny slices of the electorate, the importance of the newspaper endorsement is unclear. But the campaigns think enough of their value to put their candidates before editorial boards in swing states.

So far, the race for endorsements is shaping up to look much like the presidential campaign itself — President Obama enjoys a slight lead, but has lost ground since 2008. He leads Mitt Romney 17 to 15 in major newspaper endorsements so far, but four of Romney’s 15 endorsements come from papers that supported Obama four years ago.

But according to data on the 100 largest U.S. newspapers compiled by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project, Romney enjoys a slight lead in swing-state endorsements (counting Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina) from major papers, landing seven so far to Obama’s six. The four biggest swing-state papers -- The Denver PostThe Philadelphia Inquirer, the Tampa Bay Times, and The Plain Dealer of Cleveland -- have all endorsed the president.

It’s still early, though, and about two-thirds of major papers have not issued their endorsements. TheMilwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and The Miami Herald, all with circulations above 150,000, have yet to make recommendations to their swing-state readerships. All three endorsed Obama in 2008.

So far, the biggest coup has come in Florida, where The Orlando Sentinel endorsed Romney on Oct. 19.The Sentinel endorsed Obama in 2008, but cited disappointment with the president’s performance in turning around the economy to explain its choice of Romney.

Notably, The Detroit News, which endorsed Sen. John McCain in 2008, is sticking with the GOP in 2012, despite Romney’s opposition to the auto bailout, which has been credited with saving the American auto industry. The paper thanks Obama for his leadership on the bailout, but writes, “Despite his wrong-headedness on the auto bailout, we believe Romney when he proclaims himself a ‘car guy.’”

Though it’s not likely to help the president get to 270 electoral votes, he can take solace in an Oct. 19 endorsement from the San Antonio Express-News. The paper is the only one of the top 100 so far that has shifted its support to the president after endorsing McCain in 2008. According to the endorsement’s headline, “Obama has earned a second term.”

For a paper that endorsed Obama’s opponent when the Democrat was riding a wave of optimism four years ago, the Express-News endorsement stands out even more for the solidly positive review it gives Obama’s first term.

Even The Washington Post’s editorial board, which has consistently supported the president, mentions in the fourth paragraph of its endorsement “the disappointments of Mr. Obama’s first term,” before going on to paint Romney as an untrustworthy political opportunist.

The Express-News though, touts Obama’s record on the financial crisis, banking regulation, the housing market, the auto bailout, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other issues before discussing its disappointments with his first term and qualifying them: “These shortcomings, however, don’t justify a change in leadership.”

Major papers endorsing the president so far have a combined circulation of 4,084,000, while papers endorsing Romney have a combined circulation of 3,333,000. The country’s two biggest papers, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, generally do not endorse candidates.