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What does an endorsement get a candidate in the 2016 election?

When New Hampshire's biggest newspaper, the Union Leader, rewarded Chris Christie's assiduous campaigning in its state with its endorsement over Thanksgiving weekend, some political strategists and reporters took a break from their tweeting about football games to consider its value.

"Union Leader's endorsement packed some wallop when it landed on doorsteps of more than 100K 20 years ago," tweeted Alec MacGillis, a political reporter for ProPublica. "Sunday [circulation] now down almost half."

Stuart Stevens, who was the former chief strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, and whose consulting firm is working with Christie (Stevens says he is not directly involved in his campaign), countered: "What's the downside?"

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"It's the major print endorsement in state," he wrote. "Everybody wanted it. One guy got it. Better to be that guy."

So, as the media landscape becomes more fractured, does the endorsement mean anything in these early-voting states? Or is it just another talking point lost in a noisy, crowded presidential race dominated by one candidate?

The endorsement sizzle was already diminishing in 2012 when Newt Gingrich won the paper's nod, despite losing the state handily to Romney.

"We had next to no bump out of that at all," said Andrew Hemingway, Gingrich's senior adviser in the New Hampshire race.

Gingrich, the former house speaker who surged in November of 2011, finished fourth -- dropping 10 points after the Union Leader's endorsement.

Mitt Romney, the establishment favorite, had tried hard to win over editor Joe McQuaid, persistently wining and dining him, to no avail. "We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear," the editorial read.

Still, Gingrich may have been an outlier -- every candidate endorsed by the paper before him him saw a bump in polling. But it may be that endorsements -- whether they're conferred by editorial pages or politicians -- function less as change agents in a race and more as leading indicators, dovetailing with a larger sense of the race's momentum.

The Union Leader endorsed John McCain in late 2007, and while it wasn't directly responsible for his victories in New Hampshire or South Carolina, it did mirror signs of a resurgence for a campaign that was financially broke but outworking its opponents on the ground.Trey Walker, one of McCain's advisers in that race, said the Union-Leader endorsement was one part of the story.

"The '07 endorsement was symmetrical of his trajectory and his phoenix-like rise back from the campaign being basically dead," he said. "His campaign was making headway and returned and had life."

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For a candidate like Christie, who has worked hard to reverse his favorability numbers after the Bridgegate controversy -- he's up to 53 percent from 34 percent in the most recent WMUR/ CNN poll -- the Union Leader endorsement was a welcome boost, capping off a month of positive press coverage, a widely-viewed viral video about addiction, and a string of other influential local endorsements. He has reaped a polling boost, too, jumping from the bottom of the polls to third in New Hampshire, at 9 percent.

And what about the value of political endorsements? In New Hampshire, not a day goes by without a press release in a reporter's inbox touting yet another name of a state activist, state legislator, or next-door neighbor who has thrown their support behind a candidate.

In New Hampshire, where just about everyone claims to be a political "leader," endorsements run the gamut from small-time to valuable. Most of the Democratic establishment, including Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Sheheen, have thrown their support to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, but a RealClearPolitics average shows she trails Sanders in New Hampshire. Rand Paul, meanwhile, landed his 400th endorsement in the state last week -- but he is lagging at 2 percent, according to the most recent WMUR/ CNN poll.

Neil Levesque, who runs the Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College in Manchester, says the big endorsements "get you in the news." In a big field, "If you can get the Judd Greggs and the Jeanne Shaheens, that lends credibility to your campaign and a lot of times gives voters a chance to give a second look," he said.

Former Republican congressman Charlie Bass said the biggest single endorsement in New Hampshire he recalls was conferred in 1988, when then-Gov. John Sununu endorsed George H.W. Bush.

"Bush was being threatened by Bob Dole when Sununu rolled in at the very end, as the sitting governor, and really pulled it off in the last week," Bass recalled. "This is a term of art: the swing man strategy. When you get an endorsement from a notable six months before the primary, no one is paying attention. Six days before and every one is paying attention. I believe that makes a difference."

But that was almost 30 years ago -- when big names would drive the newspaper and TV coverage captured everyone's attention. Today, the media world is splintered. Zac Moffat, the chief digital strategist for Mitt Romney's campaign, said that in this environment, state-level endorsements don't have the power they once did. They are "somewhat overrated relative to actual effectiveness," he said.

Moffat said the real value comes from influential activists who have active social media presences - whose opinions are heavily "shared" on Facebook - rather than some elected official "in office 10 years ago."

Jeb Bradley, the New Hampshire Senate Majority Leader, endorsed Christie last week after months of deliberation, peppered with regular phone calls and text messages from the New Jersey Governor. Bradley said that it's hard to say just how valuable endorsements are, but that it's helpful when an endorser has "a big email list, is a prominent figure and seen as a leader."

But at the end of the day "the candidate has to deliver the goods."

"I think the value is not so much this individual or the Union Leader but it's more that Christie has momentum and has an opportunity to capitalize on it," Bradley told CBS News. "I'd like to say the Bradley endorsement put him over the top, but I know I'm blowing smoke in myself if I say that."

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