The voters are about to have their say. But before they do, newspapers based in pivotal battleground states have rendered their own verdicts on the contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Many have endorsed the president for a second term. Many have endorsed his Republican challenger.
Even collectively, the views expressed in these editorials do not exactly mirror the nation's electoral soul. But the endorsements more than just echo partisan talking points. They represent, in many cases, the same kind of thoughtful grappling with the candidates and their plans that millions of individual voters have confronted en route to Nov. 6.
Those who came out in support of Mr. Romney often characterized him as a moderate, can-do business executive – someone more likely to be effective at reaching difficult compromises with a divided Congress. Those who endorsed Obama often expressed uncertainty about who the "real Romney" is (moderate or conservative), and argued that the current president is at least a known quantity with victories as well as failures under his belt.
Here's a tour of the thinking of editorial boards in eight swing states, starting in Virginia and moving clockwise around the nation – ending in the Midwest.
Virginia: Richmond Times-Dispatch – for Romney
The Times-Dispatch editorial board called Romney's economic plan "plausible and pragmatic," including his call for a cap on federal spending.
"Perhaps most disappointing has been the president's divisive rhetoric and his inability to forge alliances with the opposing party to find solutions. Republicans share the blame for the angry tone in American politics, but it was Obama who pledged just four years ago to bridge the gap between red and blue, liberal and conservative."
North Carolina: Charlotte Observer – for Obama
The Observer pours some cold water on both candidates, saying neither "has offered a credible plan that might spark growth and help create jobs. Similarly, on the issue that profoundly threatens the United States long-term – the debt – neither candidate has come forth with a prescriptive, balanced proposal of program cuts and increased revenues."
But, seeking to choose one or the other, the paper went with Obama. It concluded that Romney's fiscal plan "may be going the wrong direction" with tax cuts and higher military spending.
And in support of Obama, the Observer argues that his health-care reform in 2010 "illustrates the biggest contrast between the president and his challenger. In words and some deeds, Obama has worked to protect vulnerable Americans – the uninsured, gays, the children of illegal immigrants. He’s governed with a philosophy that all Americans deserve at least the opportunity for success, and he’s advocated for tax reform and an educational infrastructure that would promote fairness."
While sharing the economic emphasis of many other newspaper endorsements (and of US voters), the Tampa Bay Times argues for Obama in part because of "stark" distinctions on social issues.
"With congressional Republicans forcing a stalemate on immigration, Obama took the initiative to let young undocumented immigrants of promise stay in this country legally if they are in school, high school graduates, or serve in the military," the paper says.
It sides with Obama in support of same-sex marriage. "The next president could appoint perhaps two Supreme Court justices," it adds, "and those appointments could determine whether a woman's right to control her own body is overturned. Romney, who supported abortion rights as Massachusetts governor and now opposes them with limited exceptions, cannot be trusted to stand up to social conservatives who view overturning Roe vs. Wade as a litmus test for prospective justices."
Nevada: Las Vegas Review-Journal – for Romney
While praising Romney as presenting solutions for America and for his scandal-free personal background, the Review-Journal devoted much of its argument to a critique of Obama. The paper argued that the president is unconvincing in his economic recipe of "higher taxes on investors, job creators, and small businesses" and borrowing money for government jobs programs.
After being implicitly rebuked by voters in the 2010 congressional elections, "instead of moving to the center, as President Bill Clinton did after the 1994 Republican Revolution, Mr. Obama has dug in his heels," the paper argues. "He shares the blame for Washington's gridlock."
Colorado: Denver Post – for Obama
The Post cuts Obama some slack because of the very difficult economic conditions he inherited. While saying Obama "can be fairly criticized for leaning too heavily on regulations," the paper argues that Romney's plans are vague or don't add up in the view of budget experts.
"Neither [candidate] has done enough to lead us to think voters on Nov. 6 aren't, to a certain degree, being asked to make a leap of faith," the Post says. "But Obama's record of accomplishment under trying circumstances and his blueprint for a second term make him the best pick to move the nation forward."
Iowa: Des Moines Register – for Romney
The Register says its editorial board had a "vigorous debate over this endorsement" that circled back repeatedly to the economy: who could get it moving while also improving the health of federal budgets. It concluded that Romney "emerges as the stronger canadidate" as an accomplished turnaround executive and as a governor who worked across partisan lines.
"Romney could be assured that Democrats would work to defeat him as hard as Republicans worked against Obama if he were to adopt the reactionary agenda of the most extreme elements of the Republican Party," the Register concludes.
But it argues that Romney, after tacking to the right during the primary elections, "has recalibrated his campaign to focus on his concern for the middle class."
Wisconsin: Wisconsin State Journal – for Romney
The State Journal, giving its endorsement just the weekend before the election, argues that Romney best understands how businesses create jobs, and hence that he's "more likely to get the private-sector going strong again."
The paper laments that Obama didn't embrace the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson plan for deficit reduction. "Romney has an impressive record of success in the private and public sectors. He's a numbers guy who focuses more on results than ideology," the paper concludes.
Ohio: Akron Beacon Journal – for Obama
The Akron paper praises the Obama-directed rescue of automakers General Motors and Chrysler through government-assisted bankruptcy. And it says the Obama stimulus package helped dampen the severity of recession.
"What is telling about a presidency is its tilt, its direction, spirit and priorities. Thus, to those who argue the president lacks a plan for a second term: Look at the foundation that has been set.
“He has used the levers of government to bolster the economy, investing in education, innovation and health care, understanding the essential role of the public sector in competitiveness," the Beacon Journal says.
And, citing the Race to the Top program in education and elements of health-care reform, it says Obama has "governed more from the middle than many give him credit."