On the Political Front: ABC Boots Union Leader From GOP Debate

Jan 11, 2016

Union Leader Publisher Joe McQuaid
Credit www.unionleader.com

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins Morning Edition most Monday mornings for "On the Political Front."

The New Hampshire Union Leader has been booted as co-sponsor of the lone New Hampshire GOP presidential debate.  The network’s explanation: the Union Leader’s editorials going after GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

Yes. And ABC spokesperson cited the papers “war of words” with Trump, and the fact that the paper has endorsed in the primary—the UL picked Chris Christie -- as reasons for severing the relationship. Donald Trump, meanwhile, was quick to claim credit for ABC’s move Sunday on Twitter.

What do you make of this?

Well, as Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid pointed out, its well-known – and certainly known by ABC – that the Union Leader writes editorials, endorses candidates and goes after candidates it doesn’t endorse. What’s not known at this point, at least not by me, is what Donald Trump might have said to done, if anything at all, to make this happen. You could certainly see this incident as another example of how the New Hampshire primary has become less a local and more a national event. It’s also true that while the Union Leader was a co-sponsor of the event, its editorial role on-screen wasn't going to be too conspicuous.

What are we to make of the fact that this comes on the heels the lone New Hampshire Democratic debate, where ABC booted WMUR due to a labor dispute?

Well, that was easier to see coming. Candidates – particularly Democrats—don’t like to appear anyplace where there’s a labor dispute. This plays a bit less to type – and I expect it will provide a bit of a tonic to the Union Leader’s editorial page, not that that tends to be needed in primary years.

OK, let’s turn to Sunday's other big story……..Planned Parenthood action fund's endorsement of Hillary Clinton,

Yes, this was the first time Planned Parenthood has chosen to put itself in the thick of a competitive Democratic primary, which may be a measure of how tight this race is. But it’s not the first time Hillary Clinton has looked to use the politics of abortion to give her life during a tight New Hampshire primary.

She did this in 2008 too?

Well, back then her campaign released a letter and sent out campaign fliers, signed by abortion rights advocates, questioning whether then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama was to be fully trusted on issues women’s reproductive rights issues due to some instances when he voted present, without taking a yea or nay position on some abortion-related measures as an Illinois state Senator. The fliers were signed by several prominent Democratic women, including Governor Maggie Hassan, who was then a state senator. Some of those who signed the fliers later recanted, and called them a bad idea – Governor Hassan wasn’t among them, by the way – and they caused some real bad blood. It’s hard to say if or how much they may have helped Clinton back then, but obviously she won the primary.

How about this year’s move by the Planned Parenthood action fund?

Well, as was stressed Sunday at the endorsement, this was the first time the organization has endorsed during a presidential primary. As a matter of policy,  the organization tends to stay out of races where both candidates support abortion rights, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders does. I would say the move is an obvious sign that the race between Sanders and Clinton – at least in New Hampshire – remains very tight. I’d also say that it’s a sign of how issues surrounding abortion and contraception --  and Planned Parenthood itself – are real flash points these days. New Hampshire is one of many states to stop using Planned Parenthood as a women’s health care provider amid controversy over Planned Parenthood’s practices surrounding - nationally not in New England - the sale of fetal tissue. During the Clinton endorsement yesterday, all the speakers stressed how every Republican running is on record wanting to defund Planned Parenthood.  In New Hampshire, that’s been true also. As you recall, the GOP-led Executive Council has now twice voted to block the state from contracting with Planned Parenthood.

So this isn’t just about the presidential race?

Well that’s clearly Planned Parenthood’s first priority, but abortion rights is a core issue for Democrats at all levels, and one of its most potent organizational causes, nationally, but also here in New Hampshire. I’m pretty sure the only local Republican politician called out by name at yesterday’s event was  Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who’s running for governor, and who was the swing vote – Sununu is pro-choice – in the council’s decision to reject state contracts with Planned Parenthood. So the messaging of what we saw yesterday on behalf of Clinton, we are likely to see reapplied more broadly come fall.