The Des Moines Register has endorsed Mitt Romney in the GOP 2012 Presidential Nomination Race. As was done when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed Newt Gingrich last month, I decided to do some research on the sway and power of such an endorsement.
The Des Moines Register prides itself on being a "voice of pragmatic conservatism." How conservative are they? Well, the paper has been owned by the Cowles family since 1903. One family member served as a Republican in the Iowa General Assembly (in the early 1900s), and another in the Herbert Hoover administration. With those kinds of GOP roots, and their conservative claims, they are surprisingly not that conservative.
GOP Nominee Endorsements-
2011/12- Mitt Romney (2 weeks till we find out!)
2008- John McCain (who lost to Mike Huckabee, eventual nomination went to McCain)
2004- George W. Bush (incumbent year)
2000- John McCain (lost by 36% to GW Bush, who also took the nomination)*
1996- Bob Dole (won Iowa, and the national nomination)
1992- George H.W. Bush (incumbent year)
1988- Bob Dole (won Iowa with 37%, but the nomination, and eventual presidency, went to George H.W. Bush who took third in Iowa)
So as for how often the Des Moines Register's endorsee win in Iowa? Two times for Bob Dole. But it is noteworthy that they did endorse McCain in 2008 who went on to get the nomination, but lost Iowa.
The paper has never endorsed the man who would be the next GOP President (unless they backed Reagan in the 80s. I am still working very hard to find hard core data on 76, 80, and 84).
In other words, Romney Fans, I wouldn't get too excited about this endorsement. It doesn't seem to bring good luck!
*Disclaimer- 2 sources said they endorsed McCain, a third said they backed Bush. Still trying to find a more credible source than Wikipedia.
The Register also endorses a Democrat each year, so let's look at those-
2008 - Hillary Clinton (Obama won) (however, for the nationwide Presidential election they endorsed Obama over McCain)
2004- John Edwards (lost to John Kerry by 6%)
2000- Bill Bradley (Al Gore won)
1996- Bill Clinton (incumbent year)
1992- Tom Harkin (Iowa state senator. Most Democrats avoided Iowa that year. Harkin won the state with 77% of the vote. Bill Clinton won the nomination, but lost in Iowa with 2%.)
1988- Paul Simon (lost to Dick Gephardt. Michael Dukakis took third in Iowa, won the nomination.)
1976- Jimmy Carter (Jimmy Carter "won" Iowa with 28%, meanwhile 37% chose "uncommitted" over Jimmy Carter.)
As for picking the Democratic Iowa Caucus winner they got Tom Harkin right in 1992, and Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Jimmy Carter in 1976 is also the only time, regardless of political party, that the Des Moines Register picked the future President, during the caucus phase. But we can't really blame the paper for that. Iowa rarely chooses the person who goes on to win the nomination, let alone the national election.
How often does the Iowa Caucus produce the national nominee?
The Iowa Caucus has only managed to pick the national nominees eight times out of the last fifteen elections, but only managed to be indicative of the next president twice. (I am not counting 1976 when more people chose to not commit rather than vote for Jimmy Carter.) In fact, it is interesting to note that they managed to repeatedly pick candidates (in both parties) that didn't just lose, but lost by significant numbers. Cases in point, Harkin, Mondale, Carter, Huckabee, Dole, Dole again, and anyone who ran against Ronald Reagan (1976 and 1980).
Wikipedia: Newspaper endorsements in presidential elections