"On Jan. 8, New Hampshire Republicans will make one of the most important choices for their party and nation in the history of our presidential primary. Their choice ought to be John McCain. ... His record, his character, and his courage show him to be the most trustworthy, competent and conservative of all those seeking the nomination. Simply put, McCain can be trusted to make informed decisions based on the best interests of his country, come hell or high water," wrote the paper's publisher Joe McQuaid.
McCain, who has been polling in the middle of the pack nationally for the Republican presidential nomination but near the top in New Hampshire, touted the prized endorsement in a written statement.
"I alone have the experience, knowledge and judgment to lead as commander in chief from day one, and my candidacy will rally the Reagan coalition to win a great victory next November," he said.
The nomination of the Manchester Union Leader doesn't usually mean a candidate wins the state, but it has helped on occasion.
In 1976 and 1980, the newspaper backed Ronald Reagan. The latter endorsement propelled Reagan to victory. In 2000, the Union Leader threw its weight behind Steve Forbes. McQuaid at the time called McCain the most liberal Republican in the pack.
That year, McCain won the New Hampshire Republican primary against George W. Bush by a wide margin. Forbes came in third.
Back in 1999, McQuaid explained to The Washington Post the value of his endorsement.
"The Union Leader's style is we don't just endorse once," McQuaid told the newspaper. "We endorse every damn day. We started endorsing Reagan in 1975 and never stopped."
In Sunday's write-up, McQuaid wrote that McCain understands the threats to the United States and has proven right on his criticisms of the Bush administration's prosecution of the War on Terror and his recommendations for achieving success in it.
McQuaid also noted McCain's fight against earmarks, his anti-abortion position and his ability to reach across the aisle on big issues. All those attributes are part of McCain's principal message in campaign stump speeches.
The endorsement states opposition to McCain's leading campaign finance reform, but chalks that up to one of few disagreements on policy.
In singing the Arizona senator's praises, the newspaper did skip over a key issue for Republican voters — immigration, and McCain's effort to create a temporary guest worker plan as part of an immigration reform package he co-sponsored last year with Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
McQuaid added that McCain's true character is evident in his refusal to be released ahead of his fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam because he was the son of a U.S. admiral and could be used for propaganda. McCain stayed in the prison for five and a half years.
Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, McCain said he was "very pleased by the endorsement."
"I'm very appreciative of The Union Leader endorsement. Joe McQuaid is a tough guy and a tough guy to please, as a matter of fact. The publisher of the paper and the editors all came to this decision. I'm grateful for it. And I think it will give us a boost," he said
McCain noted that he still has "to do the door-to-door, the town hall meetings" to win over voters in the state. He added that "there's no doubt the immigration issue has hurt me in many ways, but you've got to do what you think is right," he said.
Next year's first-in-the-nation primary will be held on Jan. 8.