Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio get Des Moines Register nod

Last Updated Jan 23, 2016 9:19 PM EST

The Des Moines Register is endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president and Marco Rubio for the Republican nod, the Iowa newspaper announced Saturday.

"No other candidate can match the depth or breadth of her knowledge and experience," the Register's editorial board wrote of Clinton, with just over a week to go before the first caucus kicks off in the state.

The board penned its endorsement of the former secretary of state with her domestic and foreign policy credentials in mind.

"The presidency is not an entry-level position," it wrote. "Whoever is sworn into office next January must demonstrate not only a deep understanding of the issues facing America, but also possess the diplomatic skills that enable presidents to forge alliances to get things done."

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

The newspaper identified some weak points in Clinton's campaign after three hours of interviews with the candidate.

"She exhibited an impressive command of the issues, though we'd have liked to hear more from her on the debt and the future of Social Security," the board said.

On Clinton's private emails -- an issue that has dogged the former secretary throughout her 2016 campaign -- the paper called her "somewhat prickly and defensive" but noted that "overall she was gracious, engaging and personable."

Of Clinton's rivals, the paper credited Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with bringing the issue of wealth inequality to the forefront of the 2016 race. The Register called him "a man of courage and principle who has the ability to rally others to his cause" but ultimately decided that his calls for political revolution were "easier said than done."

For Republicans, the Iowa paper recommended Rubio as the candidate that could "chart a new direction for the party" -- one that rejects current sentiments of anger, pessimism and fear and instead emphasizes "opportunity and optimism."

"The party could channel that frustration and pursue true reform," the paper wrote in a separate editorial. "It could renounce its fealty to the economic elite and its fixation with tax cuts for the wealthy ... It could be the party in which the son of an immigrant bartender and maid could become president."

Despite dubbing the Florida Republican as the man that represents the GOP's "best hope," the board acknowledged that the first-term senator still has "plenty to prove."

It ticked off several policy issues Rubio has yet to answer for, including a plan for an Affordable Care Act alternative, Social Security and immigration reform. And, the editorial board added, "we wish he followed the lead of colleague Chuck Grassley and rarely missed a vote in the Senate."

Still, the board noted that his compelling biography and positions on the economy could unite the party -- especially in a year where "most Republicans aren't interested in rewarding a long resume."

In an election cycle saturated with star power and media-savvy personalities, it's unclear how much influence local newspapers can still wield over the state's electorate -- like when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last month and political strategists debated its impact.

The Iowa paper's recent track record with predicting the state's caucus winners is spotty at best.

In 2012, the Register backed Mitt Romney, the eventual GOP nominee. But the winner of the caucus that year? Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

In 2008, the paper threw its weight behind Clinton for Democrats. Barack Obama, then a first-term Illinois senator, won both the Iowa caucus and, later, the Democratic party ticket. For Republicans, the Register chose to back Arizona Sen. John McCain, who later became the GOP nominee. The Iowa caucus winner among Republicans was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Despite the paper's endorsement history, several presidential contenders this cycle have wooed the editorial board.

Clinton sat for two long interviews with the Register's staff earlier this month, while the newspaper has also been courted by her Democratic rivals along with several on the GOP side.

Notably, the two Republicans currently topping Iowa polls -- Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and billionaire businessman Donald Trump -- have not met with the paper's editorial board.

Trump has even waged war against the Register, painting it as a "biased" outlet and even denying some of its reporters access to his campaign events.

At a rally Saturday in Iowa, Trump scorned the publication as a "total phony paper."