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Sarah Palin's Tuesday Picks Come Out on Top, Mostly

4 years ago
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Sarah Palin's busy primary endorsement season came to a mostly winning end Tuesday, most notably with victories by two of her "mama grizzlies": Christine O'Donnell, who prevailed in Delaware's GOP Senate primary, and Kelly Ayotte, who narrowly defeated Ovide Lamontagne in the New Hampshire GOP race for Senate.

By Facebook, via Twitter, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate has handed out endorsements, well, right and righter this election season. She stood up for U.S. Sen. John McCain, who put her in the spotlight as his running mate. And she spurned home state incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, even after giving her a $5,000 donation, to support the ultimate upstart winner Joe Miller in Alaska.

In two other races, former New Hampshire attorney general Kelly Ayotte (Palin's pick) held a one-point lead over Ovide Lamontagne (a Tea Party favorite who cast himself as a "true" conservative) in the Granite State with 85 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning. But Brian Murphy, Palin's long-shot candidate in Maryland's gubernatorial primary, lost in a landslide to former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who will once again face off against Martin O'Malley.

By the numbers in competitive primaries, Palin is 7-2 for Senate endorsements; 7-6 for House endorsements; and 6-3 in endorsements of gubernatorial candidates.

Support from heavy hitters like Palin (along with fellow conservative kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint) means not just money from political action committees (hey, sometimes Palin's endorsements don't even include that!). They can bring attention and endorsements from others -- this year, it's the Tea Party crowd -- and cash from loyal followers of the endorser.

The question now is what will Palin's support mean in the Nov. 2 general election? GOP voters have embraced anti-government rhetoric from candidates such as O'Donnell, Miller and others. But to a broader electorate, some of that rhetoric - and the way it's been framed - may not be so appealing.

Daniel Smith, a professor and director of the political campaigning program at the University of Florida, said how Palin's chosen candidates perform in the general election will be based on regional factors.

"O'Donnell's going to be hurting," he said. "It certainly has caused some consternation within the Republican Party establishment. The Republican Party has some soul searching to do. The kind of candidates Sarah Palin has endorsed has played well in certain regions of the country, but not with the national party."

Smith predicted Palin's endorsement will make little difference in many November contests.

"Sarah Palin's negatives are still higher than her positives," he said. "She does poorly among all Democrats and she does poorly among Independent-minded voters as well."

Here's a breakdown of Palin's primary season plays:

The easy calls: Palin got easy Senate wins by endorsing insiders like McCain in Arizona, Roy Blunt in Missouri, Rob Portman in Ohio and Carly Fiorina in California. Gubernatorial no-brainers: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Tom Emmer in Minnesota. Did she even make a difference in these races? Probably not. Plus, Palin endorsed 13 candidates with no primary opposition and 18 candidates after their primaries.

The long-shot wins: Tuesday's big name here is O'Donnell. But Palin also endorsed Tuesday winners Michael Grimm in New York's 13th congressional district and Sean Duffy (from MTV's "The Real World: Boston"!) for the Wisconsin seat that David Obey is retiring from. And don't forget Rand Paul in Kentucky's Senate race, Nikki Haley in the South Carolina governor's race and certainly Joe Miller in Alaska's Senate race. Then there's Paul Gosar in Arizona's 1st District and John Koster in Washington's 2nd.

The bad bets: Maryland's Murphy wasn't the only long-shot endorsee who lost a primary race. Consider Clint Didier in Washington's Senate race, or Idaho's Ward Vaughn, Arkansas' Celine Bledsoe, Mississippi's Angela McGlowan and Colorado's Bob McConnell in House races. Then there's Karen Handel in Georgia's governor's race.

The Palin edge? Did a Palin endorsement push O'Donnell over the top? Maybe, maybe not. She likely made a huge difference in Miller's Alaska race against Murkowski. And Haley certainly benefited from Palin's strong defense against adultery allegations.

What about the general? So, O'Donnell scored Tuesday's win -- but with only about 60,000 people voting in the Delaware primary. The question is, does Palin's backing help her in November? It seems unlikely. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight (and now of the New York Times) has the Senate seat leaning Democratic. Palin endorsed Sharron Angle, who won a competitive Nevada primary, but does her role make a difference in the attempt to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Sure, Fiorina was the easy-money candidate in California's GOP primary, but will Palin mean much in the race against incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer in a state that often swings Democratic?

Palin certainly appeals to the Republican base, many of the Tea Party activists and some independent voters. She has targeted Democrats who voted for President Obama's health care reform package and has donated money to many of their GOP opponents.

In some primary races, her endorsement provided a needed push, but in many it made no difference.

Palin ended Tuesday evening calling for GOP unity -- on Twitter, of course: "Primary debate is over;time 4unity is now bc time 4choosing is near. Attitudes of unsuccessful campaigns r contagious,make'em worth catching"

Nov. 2 will tell whether her efforts have been truly successful.

Click play below to listen to Sarah Palin discuss the primary results and Karl Rove's comments about Christine O'Donnell's electability:

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