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Mitt Romney snags Des Moines Register endorsement in Iowa

With just over two weeks until the Iowa caucuses, GOP contenders are making the final push for votes. NBC's Mike Viqueira reports.


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Despite not spending much time or resources in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, Mitt Romney won the endorsement Saturday of Iowa’s largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register.

“Sobriety, wisdom and judgment ... those are qualities Mitt Romney said he looks for in a leader. Those are qualities Romney himself has demonstrated in his career in business, public service and government,” the newspaper said in an editorial Saturday night, just 17 days before the caucuses. “Those qualities help the former Massachusetts governor stand out as the most qualified Republican candidate competing in the Iowa caucuses.”

The Register, which was publishig its endorsement in Sunday’s paper, says its goal with a caucus endorsement “is to provide a perspective for Iowans beyond what they read in regular news coverage and see in debates.”

Read the full endorsement in the Des Moines Register

The former Massachusetts governor did not win this endorsement last cycle. Rather, the Register endorsed John McCain. McCain, who lost the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee, went on to be the eventual nominee.

“We did not endorse him [Romney] then [2008 caucus], but this is a different field, and he has matured as a candidate,” the editorial board wrote. “Rebuilding the economy is the nation’s top priority, and Romney makes the best case among the Republicans that he could do that.”

The Register’s editorial board has been endorsing candidates since 1988 – and three of the four Republicans -- Bob Dole, George W. Bush, McCain -- it has endorsed over the past 24 years have gone on to be the Republican nominee. Only one, Bush, was elected president.

Romney is trailing Newt Gingrich in the Hawkeye State, polls suggest.

According to the Dec. 4 NBC News-Marist poll among likely caucus goers in Iowa, Gingrich was polling at 28 percent, and Romney and Ron Paul were tied with 19 percent (after reallocating Herman Cain supporters to their second-choice candidate).

Gingrich won the endorsement of New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader, just three weeks ago.

Romney, who has been criticized for his frequent absence in Iowa, was last in the state Friday but it is not known when he will return here.

The Iowa caucus takes place on Jan. 3, and this endorsement likely will raise expectations for Romney's performance there. But some political watchers were unimpressed.

A caucus veteran in the state told NBC News: "This endorsement could not be more meaningless. There is a reason they [the Register] lost their debate this year: Iowans simply do not care."

Related story: South Carolina embraces Romney, but will it vote for him?