Iowa newspaper backs Mitt Romney? Weird GOP race gets a little weirder.

The Des Moines Register endorsing Mitt Romney even though Romney has essentially ignored the state? It's just the latest line in a bizarre GOP presidential primary season. 

Rainier Ehrhardt/AP
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a town hall meeting Saturday in Charleston, S.C.

In another sign that the GOP world has gone completely haywire (as if that was needed), the Des Moines Register has endorsed Mitt Romney for president. 

This, in itself, is not terribly surprising. Former Massachusetts Governor Romney has long been seen as the safest, most-electable GOP pick among the mainstream media and establishment Republican circles.   

Yet the endorsement also encourages a healthy shrug of the shoulders.

Iowa, after all, is supposed to be the American epicenter of retail politics. Perhaps more than any other state, Iowa likes to be wooed with bus tours and town halls and appearances at state fairs. This is because Iowa does not hold a primary, but caucuses – involved affairs that encourage only the most committed voters. It makes politics a personal affair in Iowa, and because the caucuses are first nominating process in the nation, candidates are often happy to oblige.

But Romney has spent comparatively little time there. Having been burned in Iowa in 2008, he's apparently been willing to concede it to rivals in order to focus on other states. And the Des Moines Register is endorsing that campaign?

It gets weirder.

As part of his anti-Iowa campaign, Romney has basically set up house in New Hampshire, which of course neighbors Massachusetts (where he was governor) and is generally more supportive of his moderate-leaning policy positions. And the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed ... Newt Gingrich.

Endorsements are fickle things. Certainly, the Register nod could help Romney in Iowa, where he is in a dead heat with Ron Paul behind front-runner Mr. Gingrich, according to most polls. The polls suggest that the race is wide open, meaning any little advantage could be crucial.

Perhaps more important, the endorsement appears to play into a mounting Gingrich backlash. Doubtful of Gingrich's chances in a general election, the Republican establishment is attacking his weaknesses, and polls indicate that Gingrich is coming back to the pack. The Register endorsement is further fuel for that trend.

In the end, however, the real fuel for this most peculiar race – the unhappy Republican voter – remains the biggest and least predictable variable. All evidence suggests that, as unhappy as these voters are about an Obama presidency, they are only slightly more enthused by their choices of candidates to oust him.

No newspaper endorsement, it seems, is likely to change that.  

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