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Political candidates are practically expected to lob more accusations at their opponents as the number of days before Election Day decreases.
That’s why it is no shocker that the tight Republican runoff for the 10th Congressional District is heating up.
The surprise is Jody Hice, a former minister and radio talk show host, is taking exception to businessman Mike Collins’ claim of a newspaper endorsement.
Newspapers! How quaint.
Collins took to Twitter to crow.
"Another great endorsement! Barrow Journal explains the difference between me and Jody Hice," Collins wrote in a June 23 tweet. The post links to a June 20 column by Chris Bridges, editor of the weekly community newspaper.
The problem, the Hice campaign says, is the newspaper does not endorse candidates. Any claim of an endorsement would be false, said Hice’s communications director, Clarke Brannon, who contacted PolitiFact Georgia for a fact check.
"We’re trying to keep all of the facts on the table," Brannon said. "It’s not the paper that has endorsed him, just a personal column by the editor."
Journalists love to debate the merits of endorsements almost as much as they love extolling the innate deliciousness of election night pizza.
But if you’re not in a newsroom, and couldn't care less about PolitiFact’s poor dining choices, you likely need a quick primer on endorsements.
Political endorsements are the public declarations from well-known people and organizations in support of a specific candidate.
The goal is to use the name recognition and star power – not to mention money and connections – to boost one candidate in a race.
Collins’ campaign has won that sort of an endorsement from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hice’s campaign has earned an endorsement from Georgia Right To Life.
Similarly, newspapers have long endorsed candidates from local, state and national races on their editorial pages.
But a growing number of publications have backed away from endorsements in recent years, worried that the practice threatened journalistic independence of the news pages.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution still endorsed candidates in 2008 but began phasing it out a year later.
A column before the May primary put it this way, "In an era when information on candidates is widely available, you don't need us to tell you how to vote."
The Barrow Journal feels the same way for its official pages. It has not endorsed a candidate since its launch in 2008, editor Bridges said.
Bridges said his column is meant to be his opinion alone. Neither campaign contacted him to clarify on his piece about the race, but he said he could see how the practice could be confusing to people outside a newsroom.
"Most people don’t have a clue how it all works," Bridges said. "It’s my opinion, so if it’s taken as an endorsement at all, it’s my personal endorsement, not anything from the paper as a whole."
Collins spokesman Brandon Phillips said the campaign understood the distinction. That’s why the tweet referenced an endorsement and the paper, without claiming an official endorsement.
By contrast, the campaign’s Twitter feed clearly stated former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel had endorsed Collins on Monday.
Phillips said Handel was also making calls on behalf of Collins, as Gingrich had done earlier.
"When we roll out an endorsement, you know it’s an endorsement," Phillips said.
Knowing is one thing. Caring is another issue altogether.
A 2012 Pew Research Center/Washington Post poll found that most Republican voters didn’t think endorsements mattered in the presidential matchup.
Whether the support was from specific figures such as Donald Trump, community leaders or, you guessed it, newspapers, the majority of the 1,000-person sample said endorsements did little to help and could even hurt a candidate.
With all of that in mind, it appears Collins did refer to an endorsement and link to a newspaper column. But he did not claim a specific endorsement – which needs some explaining to understand.
It’s that additional information that moves it down a bit on the AJC Truth-O-Meter. We rate Collins’ statement Half True.
Mike Collins Twitter account
Interview with Clarke Brannon, communications director for Jody Hice for Congress, July 3, 2014
Interview with Chris Bridges, editor, Barrow Journal, July 3, 2014
Interview with Brandon Phillips, spokesman for Mike Collins for Congress, July 7, 2014
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Voters: We have info you need," May 4, 2014
Barrow Journal, "Bridges: Business background more important," June 20, 2014
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post survey, January 2012
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