DES MOINES, Iowa Republican John McCain and Democrat Hillary Clinton got a boost to their campaigns for presidential nominations from an influential newspaper on Sunday despite setbacks in opinion polls.
The Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper, endorsed the two candidates for the fast-approaching Iowa caucuses, calling them the best prepared and most tested of the White House contenders.
The paper is an agenda setter in a state where on January 3 voters kick off the state-by-state battle to choose Republican and Democratic candidates in the November 2008 election.
Clinton is embroiled in a tight three-way battle in Iowa with Barack Obama, an Illinois senator, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, and has seen her once formidable national poll lead slip over the last few weeks.
Also on Saturday, the Boston Globe said it would endorse McCain and Obama in the January 8 New Hampshire primary. "Obama has the leadership skills to reset the country's reputation in the world," the newspaper said.
On McCain, the newspaper said in an editorial, "the iconoclastic senator from Arizona has earned his reputation for straight talk by actually leveling with voters, even at significant political expense."
The Register's endorsement was especially bad news for Edwards, who won the newspaper's endorsement in the 2004 race, helping him make a late rush to finish second behind winner John Kerry, but the paper's editors said this was a different race and "we too seldom saw the 'positive, optimistic' campaign we found appealing in 2004."
The Register said Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, was best prepared of the Democratic candidates to confront the country's challenges.
"From working for children's rights as a young lawyer to meeting with leaders around the world as first lady to emerging as an effective legislator in her service as a senator, every stage of her life has prepared her for the presidency," the paper said.
McCain has barely competed in Iowa, focusing instead on New Hampshire and other later voting states, and trails badly in the state behind leaders Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
The newspaper said none of the Republican candidates could offer the "tested leadership in matters foreign and domestic" of McCain, an Arizona senator and former prisoner of war in Vietnam.
It cited his willingness to adopt contrarian views, including bucking his party to oppose President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, support Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq and support comprehensive immigration reform.
"The force of John McCain's moral authority could go a long way toward restoring Americans' trust in government and inspiring new generations to believe in the goodness and greatness of America," the paper said.
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)
(Editing by Howard Goller and Todd Eastham)